Make no mistake when you pull up to the enormous Gaylord Texan Hotel: This is Texas, where everything is big and, at this country-chic resort, it’s even bigger. No matter what time of year you visit, the Lone Star flag flies above a grand front entrance carved from Austin stone, studded with copper stars. The posse of valet parkers herd families arriving in pickup trucks with antlers on the grill; wedding parties in Hummer limos; and conventioneers on tour buses.
The imposing inner lobby opens onto a Cowboys Stadium-sized, multi-level atrium where bridges lead to bars serving 100-ounce beers, a sports grill with a 100-foot-long big screen TV, outdoor cafes, a pool, a miniature railroad circling a fictional Texas town, various shops and more, encircled by hotel rooms. A Big Tex on stilts, the iconic cowboy of the notoriously large Texas State Fair, greets toddlers by the check-in. The rough-cut limestone facade of a Spanish mission that resembles The Alamo recall Westerns shot in the Texas Hill Country — not in the spare John Ford style, but lavish musicals like “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” When we pulled up in our rental SUV, there was no doubt we had arrived in the heart of Texas.
Gaylord Hotels Make Big Their Brand
The Gaylord Texan is one of four upscale Gaylord Resorts and Convention Centers (now a Marriott brand) which attract vacationers to what is designed as a convention paradise. The signature glass-domed atrium at each resort blankets restaurants, shops, cafes and recreation in an inviting natural light. Whether your family plans a weekend getaway, short holiday break, or just a 24-hour staycation, the entertaining programming, kids’ activities, heated indoor pool, themed environments and spa guarantee a weather-proof good time at any time of year.
Big doesn’t mean impersonal or environmentally careless. Each resort has a well trained staff and special VIP Concierge Level service for families who want to skip the daunting check-in lines or need help planning their activities. There’s an LED lighting project at Gaylord Texan, state-of-the-art laundry facilities at the country music-loving Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee; advanced networking between rooms and public spaces at the Floridian Gaylord Palms near Orlando; and metro and water taxi service to the Gaylord National on the Potomac outside Washington DC — all to lessen each property’s carbon footprint. A fifth property, Gaylord Rockies is opening outside Denver in late 2018.
Overall, The Gaylords offer a lot of bang for the buck. Luxurious in style with four-star prices, my family will take one night at any of them over three nights in a cheap motel.
Gaylord Texan Facilities Think Big
Intimacy is not part of the big picture. This Texas convention center hotel has 1,511 large guestrooms (another room block is under construction) which overlook the lively courtyard where the show goes on night and day. Spacious rooms with a coffeemaker, work desk and other conveniences make for comfort, but when you’re sitting on your balcony watching all that the Gaylord Texan has to offer, it just reminds you of the fun you’re missing.
Families can choose from rooms with two queen beds that sleep four (and connect), or one of the 127 suites. Each features a different layout, but generally has a living room and optional connecting bedrooms sleeping up to eight. For a big splurge, three suites are circular and a few even have panoramic views of the atrium action.
Texas style restaurants include a fine dining steakhouse, casual Italian, the Riverwalk Cantina that will make your family feel like they’ve just been to San Antonio, and the fun Texas Station sports bar. We like this one the best, with its super big screen video setup for football fans, and its lively outdoor cafe for barbecue and 100-oz. beers. Our Slider Sampler, with three sliders of different barbecued meats and a small draft beer, made the perfect, shareable meal. If no one’s very hungry, there’s are come coffeebars and a big grab n’go Marketplace that has free seating on a balcony overlooking Mission Plaza and some waterfalls.
With so much family in tow on our trip, we never made it to the nightclub — or the spa for that matter — but there’s always next time. Although I was expecting a showy style of luxury, at Gaylord, the quality goes more than skin deep. The AAA Four-Diamond Gaylord Texan garners many industry awards, from #1 Top Aquatic Resort (Waterparks + Resorts Today Magazine) to awards from several meetings and convention groups, accolades for the restaurants from Wine Spectator and praise for being the #1 Best Place to Work (Dallas Business Journal and The Dallas Morning News).
The Gaylord Texan in Summer
During the summer, the Gaylord Texan becomes a staycation playground, with families driving in from hundreds of miles for a night or two of SummerFest, a schedule of free programs, waterpark fun, and special events that comes to a close Labor Day weekend. (Dallas area schools are back in session by mid-August, however, so that early August week known as “Guilty Week” is mobbed with local families who are guilty they never planned a real summer vacation — call ahead to be sure you’re not booking that week.)
With a parade of eight nieces, nephews and grandchildren, my extended family wandered from a live country music concert in the atrium to the Gaylord Texan’s outdoor waterpark, Paradise Springs. Located a five-minute walk or quick shuttle ride from the main building (with its own beautiful outdoor pool), the waterpark has enough space to provide hours of water play. The 2016 addition of three big waterslides, a splash area and extra seating should help alleviate the crowding which spills out to the well kept lawn, otherwise used for some T-ball and rolling around. Under cover there are lockers, a small fast food stand serving the usual pool fare, plus Hibiscus Margaritas, and a games arcade.
As tough as it was to find a free lounge chair, in fact the waterpark is only open to hotel guests, ensuring a clubby feel. A flock of lifeguards attends the 600-foot-long winding lazy river, a few other kid-sized waterslides in a family lagoon, some sprinkler areas including a baby zone off-limits to big toddlers, and a small “zip line” dangling over one pool.
Each of the Gaylords do special summer family programming and pool events, but the Texan waterpark is an attraction all ages will love.
Gaylord Hotels Party at any Family Holiday
The Gaylord hotels know how to show their guests a good time, and each of the resorts goes out of its way during the school holidays with activities and events.
The best known seasonal event is ICE! which my family first experienced at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. Stretching the Christmas season from mid-November to early January, each resort’s signature atrium is home to an ice structure draped in falling snow. An ice slide carved entirely out of ice is our nephew’s favorite part of it. Whether it’s the Grinch or Charlie Brown or Scrooge who add a storyline to the ice sculptures, holiday breakfasts and children’s activities, it all comes down to a really fun time together. And of course, it’s an easy “day out” for moms because you haven’t even left the hotel lobby.
Christmas is an even bigger week — my extended family in Washington booked a stay at the Gaylord National so their toddlers could enjoy the Gaylord Hotels annual Christmas Experience. By the way, the town of Grapevine is known as “The Christmas Capital of Texas,” so you should stop by the Grapevine Visitors Center (recognizable by its Old World, European-style Glockenspiel Clock Tower) and find out where the biggest and brightest Christmas Lights displays are.
Trip Planning Details for a Gaylord Texan Vacation
The Gaylord Texan Hotel is located at 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine, Texas 76051, very close to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Check their website for weekend and seasonal promotions. At certain times of year, Gaylord introduces new offers, such as their Rooms for Good plan, when 10% of room rates are donated to that month’s chosen charity. Parents and grandparents can book multi-room packages with perks such as a family portrait.
For more information and reservations, contact your travel agent or the hotel directly at 817/778-1000 (toll free 866/782-7897) or book online at Gaylord Hotels.
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