This outing was a surprise even to me as I had just come back from a 7 day trip to Tempe, AZ where I visited some friends over Christmas. But as I told a friend of mine, I just didn’t feel traveled out enough. I thumbed through my list of B & Bs and found The Victoria and it had one room left for New Year’s. I booked it and headed south.
Relatively speaking the drive was a picnic as it was the shortest I’ve had in many a moon (less than 6 hours). So it was that I found myself in Bentonville on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and at The Victoria, owned and operated by Michael and Joana Garrison.
The Victoria has a self check-in procedure. I was given a door code to let myself in and found a letter with my name on it welcoming me to the inn and guiding me to my room on the second floor. After picking my breakfast time, I headed up to my room: The Emperor.
This was a very elegant room with large paintings gracing the walls, a writing desk, an old-fashioned gas stove, a leather easy chair, and a large king bed. After settling in, I made a quick exploration of the property.
The Victoria has six rooms, each with a royal theme. There is also a seasonal swimming pool and a hot tub on the property. The mansion is surprisingly snug with the communal dining room serving as the commons area and the bedrooms being very close together.
After settling in, I headed off to worship at St Stephen. I have a feeling this is a very new building as it had a modern feel to it and was the second largest chapel in which I’ve attended a service.
I felt a real sense of serenity as I worshipped. There was no real “a-ha” moment to the service to cause this feeling. I just felt His presence and just rested in it for the service. Afterwards, I took a few snaps of the Christmas decorations around the chapel and then searched up a place to have dinner.
I had dinner at Table Restaurant on 6th. The restaurant looks like it was once a house and has upgraded café food to a fine dining experience. I had a hankering for some Mediterranean food so I gave the Lamb Burger a taste and it really hit the spot. After satisfying my hunger, I returned to the Victorian and then walked the few blocks to the downtown area.
Downtown Bentonville has a wide variety of shops and restaurants, but it also has some great Christmas lights. I first went to the outdoor ice rink and took in their magic for a spell before heading to the town square to take in their holiday cheer. Then I took advantage of the nice night and wandered about the neighborhood for some exercise and to find more Christmas lights.
One thing I noticed was that many homes seemed quite well to do and I would later learn that Bentonville is one of the wealthiest cities in Arkansas and either does, or did, have two billionaires living in the city. After a good long walk, I returned to the inn where I watched a little TV before going to bed.
I had an early breakfast the next morning and headed down at 8:15am. I formally met Michael and took a seat at by the window. Michael gave me a mason jar full of water before taking my egg order. I opted for a vegetable omelet with a side of turkey bacon. Before sinking my teeth into that, I had a fresh from the oven cinnamon roll and some fruit from the buffet.
Breakfast was exquisite and I returned to room to relax for a bit before heading to nearby Fayetteville to once again enjoy Arkadia Retrocade.
I had visited this arcade back in March on my way home from Hot Springs, but didn’t get to fully enjoy it as I was on a tight schedule. This time I was able to indulge my video game loving heart to the fullest.
I said it in March and I’ll say it again. This is one of the two best retro arcades I’ve visited and is #1 in terms of pure value. For $5, you can game all day. I was so lost in the treasure trove of games that nearly five hours passed before I knew it. I had a fantastic day of gaming as I set personal bests on Crystal Castles, Burgertime, Fix it Felix, Jr., Dragon’s Lair (haven’t quite mastered the timing of the arcade version), Donkey Kong 3, and Kangaroo. I also conquered Sunsetriders, Spider-Man, Captain America and The Avengers, and, for the first time, Double Dragon II: The Revenge.
Then I drove back to The Victoria and made the short jaunt to Flying Fish. This is a casual seafood restaurant which also serves some Cajun fare. I ordered a cup of seafood gumbo along with shrimp jambalaya and bread.
This is how gumbo is supposed to be. A good gumbo is more like stew than soup and this one was right on the money with a thick, brown broth. The jambalaya was spot on and I used the seasoned bread to mop up the remains of my gumbo and jambalaya sauce. Then I walked for a few miles around town to get some more Christmas shots before retiring to the inn for the night.
Breakfast this morning was a repeat of yesterday’s though I had an orange roll instead of a cinnamon roll and nibbled on a cranberry (I think?) scone instead of having fruit.
And that brings this adventure to an end. It serves as a nice bookend as I’m starting the year in Arkansas and will also close it there when I visit Arsenic and Old Lace of Eureka Springs for my annual Christmas review. As to what happens in between. . .well, we’ll just see where the road takes me.
But if you find yourself in Bentonville, spend a night in regal elegance at The Victoria. You’ll find royal comfort, delicious food, and gracious hosts.
I had some time to burn, so I decided to go on an outing, but wanted to go in a new direction and, preferably, someplace warm. A little look through my spreadsheet and I settled on Hot Springs, AR where I would stay at Gables Inn, owned and operated by Dave and Judy.
It was a beautiful day for travel and I enjoyed the weather and my tunes as I made my way to my stopping point of Miami for the night. Miami, OK that is.
Miami is a small town nicknamed “The Gate” due to its being about 30 minutes from the Kansas border and about 20 minutes from the Missouri border. The legendary Route 66 also runs through the town.
I checked into my suite at the town’s Holiday Inn Express and rested for a few hours before heading off to worship at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
It was a mighty good service as Father warmed up to his sermon which centered on the parable of The Prodigal Son where he talked about the role of forgiveness in Lent. Father said nothing thrilled him more than when people came to Confession and told him that they hadn’t come in years. He saw it as a time for celebration as they recognized their need for forgiveness.
I also ended up providing a little entertainment for the congregation as I was seated near the front and didn’t know what to do for Eucharist as nobody appeared at the front to distribute it. One of the parishioners eventually pointed out that they were really old school and actually knelt at the Communion rail in order to receive it.
After church, I began looking for something to eat, but found myself thwarted a bit. My first choice was closed for the day and the town is also suffering from the short staffedness caused by the pandemic so I ended up skipping my second choice as the wait would have been too long. Eventually, I hit pay dirt with my third choice of Montana Mike’s Steakhouse.
I enjoyed a surprisingly tender sirloin with a topper of Creamy Cajun shrimp. The cream was nice and sharp and really enhanced the flavor of the beef. After the meal, I returned to the hotel where I enjoyed a quiet night capped off with a relaxing jacuzzi bath before going to bed.
The next day I was back on the road and soon found myself in the Natural State enjoying the views of forests and mountains as I made my way to Hot Springs.
Hot Springs is a village nestled within the Ouachita Mountains and the last 70 miles found me navigating twisty roads and hills as I admired some of God’s scenery. Around 4pm I found myself at Gables Inn.
Gables Inn is a Victorian house which had been built as the dream home of Fred and Myrtle Sammons. The home was gutted by the infamous Hot Springs fire of 1904, but the Sammons rebuilt the entire thing from top to bottom and returned to their home in 1905. The house became an inn in 1993 and was taken over by Dave and Judy in 1996 which makes it the longest continuing B & B in Hot Springs.
Judy met me at the door and led me to the Governor’s Room which would serve as command center for the next few days. The room has the feel of a classic Victorian inn with its fireplace and Victorian lamps. For more modern comforts, the room contains a king-sized bed with memory foam pillows and a two person jacuzzi bath.
On the desk was a bottle of the town’s namesake water which is reported to have high healing properties and I can certainly testify that it healed my thirst.
I didn’t plan too much for my first night. I just went to Red Pier for dinner as I was in the mood for Cajun food. It’s a chain restaurant very similar to the Angry Crab Shack of Phoenix, AZ. The meal balanced out to OK. I had a small bowl of gumbo which had a decent taste, but was more like soup instead of stew. The chicken strips I had were incredibly juicy with flavorful meat, but had bland breading.
After dinner, I just returned to the inn where I puttered around before going to bed to energize myself for the next day.
In the morning I went down to the dining room for breakfast and heard the other guests excitedly planning their days while we dined on a delicious 4 cheese quiche with cherry tomatoes and sausage. With the other guests plotting their own adventures, there wasn’t much conversation so I finished eating fairly quickly before heading out the door.
Hot Springs is interesting as it is not only a tourist town with a lot of activities, but it’s also built around a national park so there’s something for everybody. Is shopping your bag? Lots of interesting stores to visit. Enjoy nature? Plenty of hiking and scenery. Perhaps you like shows? The #1 magic show in all of Arkansas holds court in Hot Springs. Maybe you just want to relax? There’s a series of bathhouses and spas along Bathhouse Row.
For myself, I went to the national park and went to the top of the Mountain Tower. This 216-foot structure provides a panoramic view of Hot Springs and in the distance you can see the West and Sugarloaf Mountains.
After enjoying nature, I went back to the main drag and bought tickets to take a duck boat tour as well as visit Josephine Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
A duck boat is a truck that can transform into a boat. So our captain took us on a tour of Hot Springs on the streets before taking us onto the lake in boat mode and show us some of the luxury homes. A lot of wealthy people like to use Hot Springs as a vacation home. The owners of one of the houses only visits 3 days out of the year and, the rest of the time, the house is occupied by a housekeeper and her daughter who keep the place tidy.
Speaking of “vacation homes”, a lot of notorious gangsters liked to spend time in Hot Springs. Lucky Luciano and Al Capone were frequent visitors who often plied their trade while relaxing.
When the tour was done, I went to Josephine Tussaud’s Wax Museum. If you’re wondering, she is the great-great granddaughter of Madame Tussaud, but this museum is not connected to that famous chain. It’s been the same exhibit since 1971, but is still in pretty good condition. I enjoyed replicas of The Last Supper, wandered through a Chamber of Horrors, experienced historical moments like Lincoln’s assassination, and ambled through a land of fantasy where characters from fairy tales and Mark Twain stories greeted me.
From the museum, I wandered up and down the drag, stopping in at an old-fashioned candy store where I picked up some cinnamon bears and at a beef jerky outlet when I picked up a snack pack of cracked pepper jerky. Heads up, the jerky isn’t cheap. My snack pack cost nearly $12.
I also took a brief stop at Arlington Lawn to see the hot springs and briefly touch the 143 degree water.
Then I got in my car and headed off to Anthony Chapel. This wood and glass structure looks like the twin of Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the inside of it as a wedding was being held.
I was ready for a little break and returned to the inn to rest up a bit before walking downtown for an early dinner at Brick House Grill.
This is one of the favorite restaurants of Dave and Judy and after experiencing it, I can see why. Brick House Grill has a bistro feel and even includes outdoor seating. I had the Brick House Burger and it was one of the tastiest burgers I’ve ever eaten. I could smell the chargrill as it was placed in front of me. It was so juicy and the grilled onions and crispy bacon really hit the spot.
Maxwell Blade’s magic show has been the top rated show in Arkansas for the better part of three decades and I highly recommend a visit to the theatre to experience both the Close Up show and the full theatre show.
The Close Up show takes place at 6pm in a tiny theatre just behind the bar. And I do mean tiny. The theatre only holds about 24 people so I can assure you the tricks are done right in front of your face.
The Close Up show is performed by Jonathan Erlandson, a very talented magician. He did things 3 feet from my face that just didn’t seem possible such as making a table float and dance. He even did variations of classic tricks with bold twists.
At one point, Erlandson brought up an audience member and had her shuffle a deck of cards and give him half. Then he offered to switch decks or even have her take cards from his pile or add cards to his pile from hers. She added to his pile. Then she picked a card and he picked a card. Then they switched decks and he correctly picked her card. But the real trick was that she was going to pull his card. Erlandson told her to fan the cards and pick any card she wanted from his deck. Then he calmly stated what his card was and the eyes of the audience member bugged out as she turned the card around and it was right!!
I thought his most impressive illusion was when he asked for a bill. I offered up a $20 and Erlandson had me write my name on it. He then folded it up, tossed it into a bowl of lighter fluid, and lit it on fire as a stopwatch while he sped solved a Rubik’s Cube.
Then he asked us if we had noticed the point he walked over to the sealed jar on the opposite side of the stage. He went to the jar, removed the lid, and took something off of the clip hanging to it. He handed it to me and had me unfold it. It was my $20. And, no, he never walked near the jar.
You must see this show and enjoy some truly in your face magic.
The main show, performed by Maxwell Blade, is also a treat. Blade’s show is full of comedy, music, and magic. His sleight of hand is so quick and sure. He’s an accomplished piano player and he and his girlfriend belted out a pretty fair rendition of “Rocketman”. Blade’s tricks and illusions are performed at a blitzkrieg pace, but my two favorites were his new take on Houdini’s famed Metamorphosis trick. Though, in this one, his assistant was chained up in an iron maiden shaped cage in full view of the audience before they swapped places with a close of the curtain. With another sweep of the curtain, Blade had escaped and the stagehand was now shackled.
His final illusion was incredible as he poured various colored powders into a fish bowl and swirled them into liquid. After showing us his clean hands, he swirled again and broke them back up into solid powders.
If you’re a fan of magic and fun, buy a ticket for this show and find out why it’s the best in the state.
Then I walked back to Gables Inn, drew a jacuzzi bath, and just relaxed while sipping a cream soda before going to sleep.
The next morning found me back in the dining room where I had some conversation with a couple from Texas and a couple from Germany while enjoying blueberry cream cheese stuffed French Toast and sausage.
This was a great trip and I’m a little blue to see it come to an end. But take some time in Hot Springs where you can enjoy almost any sort of activity you can imagine. And be sure to take a room in Gables Inn where you can enjoy some classic Southern hospitality in a comfortable Victorian inn.
Until the next time. . .oops, wait a sec.
It’s bonus time.
On my way home, I took an extended break in Fayetteville, AR so I could experience Arkadia Retrocade.
Hands down, this is the best vintage arcade I have ever seen and it wasn’t operating at full strength. The arcade has only recently reopened so some of the games are being worked on, but even at partial strength, this place is amazing.
For $5 (yes, you read that right) you can play all you want for the day. This place not only has classics, but has some next door to impossible games to find as well. Some rare gems I found at this arcade were Thayer’s Quest, a Dragon’s Lair type game that was never fully finished; Hologram Time Traveler, another Dragon’s Lair type game which simulates the look of a hologram; Gold Medalist which was made for the Seoul Summer Olympics; 720, Krull; and many more. There are even sections set up where you can play classic systems like Coleco Vision and Atari 2600. If I’m ever through this way again, I’m going to arrange for a full day of gaming as two hours was simply not enough time.