Tan-Tar-A resort at Lake of the Ozarks was known as a rustic retreat, wooded and woody. It’s been undergoing a gradual remodel for the past year or so, and on May 1, full of bright colors and fun themes, it will officially open as Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake of the Ozarks.
The 494-room Osage Beach resort has been open throughout the multimillion dollar renovation, but the finishing touches and the official name change will turn it into a Margaritaville hotel, the chain of resorts named for singer Jimmy Buffett’s best-known song.
It joins a growing list of Margaritaville hotels located primarily in coastal vacation spots, but also in the Smoky Mountains area.
A few changes have already taken place including room and lobby renovations. The rustic Black Bear Lodge Restaurant has been turned into the breezy JB’s Boathouse Grill.
“You’ll notice the change when you first drive into the property,” says Fred Dehner, longtime general manager. “There will be a huge sign, right in front of the front entrance. We are cleaning up landscaping; we’ve done a lot of painting.” He called it lighter, brighter and more fun.
“We are turning it into a resort island oasis,” says Ann Walters, director of sales.
When it opens, visitors will find a renovated lobby with a new bar called License to Chill. The exterior has been painted, new roofs added. And there’s the lakeside pool with a swim-up bar and tiki bar.
The new Landshark Bar & Grill will open early next month right on the lakefront. Additional boat slips have been added, and more rentals of boats and water gear are available. The indoor waterpark, horseback riding, golf courses and bowling alley also remain, but they’ve been rebranded to fit with the new themes.
“The resort looks great,” says Dehner. “It’s a change from what we had before. It’s brighter and more exciting. It feels like an entirely new place, a new destination. ... The lake is thrilled about it and about the change.
“The whole experience on the lakefront is going to be amazing.”
Dehner says that though the new resort has a breezy feel, it’s not abandoning its lake roots. “We are incorporating the local,” he says. “It’s a Margaritaville lifestyle,” in an Ozarks setting.
He also adds that it will remain a family-friendly resort, “with so much to do and so many opportunities, there will be limited reasons to leave the property.”
An all-inclusive resort
For our honeymoon, my husband and I did an all-inclusive Sandals resort in Jamaica through Apple Vacations. With all of the wedding plans, we just didn't want to have to mess with planning a vacation, too. Fast forward about 14 years, and we planned another all-inclusive vacation to Jamaica. We were in the throes of parenting a 5- and 7-year-old while working full-time and didn't want to waste time planning that vacation. So we booked an all-inclusive vacation to Jamaica, Beaches (the family version of Sandals) Negril and Ocho Rios.
With an all-inclusive you don't have to worry about making plans every day because there is always a beach and a drink. And the best thing is you don't have to pay any extra for them. Most all-inclusive resorts charge one fee for all your food, drinks, room and many activities including water sports.
The beach in Negril was glorious, and the boys loved playing in the sand and ocean. There were kid-friendly restaurants, activities, a Sesame Street parade and more.
Two years later, we also did an all-inclusive trip to a Dreams resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with my sister and her family.
National parks out West
When my sons were 6 and 8, we rented a medium-sized SUV and set out on a well-planned trip to the West. We started with a couple of days at Badlands National Park where we hiked and gazed at the stars, then stopped at Mount Rushmore before heading to a dinosaur dig in Wyoming. Next, a couple of days and a horseback ride in the Old West town of Cody, Wyo. Then we spent four days in Yellowstone National Park. The highlight there was the day we hired a guide to take us on a hike (even the 6-year-old did five miles) of some hidden parts of the park. Next, we spent a few days at a resort in Big Sky, Mont., before heading back through Yellowstone for Grand Teton National Park.
Make no mistake, this trip takes planning, especially if you are staying in a national park (lodging reservations book up early).
For a lot to do close to home, you can't beat Branson, Mo. You can choose to make it more of a theme park trip with Silver Dollar City, the new Runway Mountain alpine coaster, the Bigfoot adventure park on the strip, Fritz's Family Adventure or any one of the several ziplines around town.
Or you can make it all about the shows and attractions. Kids love the magic shows, and they probably won't hate some of the musical ones, too. There's a Titanic museum, a wax museum, a butterfly house and much more.
Or make it a nature visit. Spend time on Table Rock Lake and visit Dogwood Canyon, where you'll find gorgeous waterfalls on paths as well as an animal park.
My family always loves staying at Big Cedar Lodge. With its lake access, gorgeous cabins, swimming pools, kids activities and new Fun Mountain indoor adventure center, my family usually doesn't even want to leave. And the nearby Top of the Rock has even more treasures to explore.
Disney and Universal theme parks in Orlando
Most families seem to take a trip to Orlando, Fla., at the some time. That mouse has a pull over kids, it seems. We've been three times: in 2010, 2012 and 2014, to the four parks of Disney and the two parks of Universal (oddly, we've never done anything else there). We are also hoping to go again this fall when Star Wars Galaxy's Edge opens.
My biggest advice for a theme park trip is ... know your limitations. If Grandma is with you and she has a problem walking you aren't going to be able to open and close the park. If you have a toddler, you will need a nap time. The best bet is to stay on site and take the shuttles back to the hotel and rest in the middle of the day.
A Gulf Coast beach
So my sons loved the beach, but I wasn't taking them on a Caribbean vacation every year. The beaches of Destin, Fla., and Gulf Shores Ala., (as well as many other communities along the Gulf Coast) are much closer. And considering you can drive there in less than 12 hours, much cheaper, too.
We rented a house in 2015 very near the beach in Gulf Shores, through Wyndham Vacation Rentals, which I've used several times since and have always been pleased with. We went with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law, and the house allowed us to spread out. Also, we really didn't have to do many other special attractions. The beach and a few board games were all we needed.
For families of younger kids, you can't beat the entertainment of a Disney cruise, but as the kids get older the freedom of teen clubs and climbing walls and golf courses pose an allure all their own.
We took the kids on a Disney cruise to Alaska when they were 4 and 6. Only the oldest remembers it, but he says it's the best vacation he remembers. Mom and dad tend to agree.
Just the past summer we went to the Caribbean on a cruise. The kids wanted freedom, and they loved exploring the ship together (but without us).
We travel often for my kids to play hockey, and at least twice a year we head to Chicago. I love Chicago for kids because it really gives them a taste of the big city without having to pay for or navigate a city like New York. Stay at a hotel on Michigan Avenue and walk everywhere (my kids also love cabs). Parking costs downtown are insane though, so consider taking the train.
The Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry may be free with your reciprocal St. Louis Science Center membership. But don't miss the Shedd Aquarium. Read more about that here.
Go South: New Orleans, Galveston and Houston
In 2017 we decided to combine a trip to see my brother-in-law in Texas with a travel story for New Orleans, Galveston and Houston.
We drove down. New Orleans is just a little over nine hours from St. Louis, an easy drive (with a stop at my parents' on the way in Cape Girardeau).
I won't lie, New Orleans worried me. I wondered if the debauchery would be too rampant. It wasn't at all. My kids actually wished we had stayed longer; it really felt like a foreign place to them.
From New Orleans, Galveston is about a three-hour drive along a scenic route through the bayou. I wish we'd had more time to stop, but we were trying to beat a storm. We did make it on the Bolivar Peninsula Ferry, which my kids got a big kick out of and checked into our hotel on the beach minutes before the storms set in. They were gone the next day and we got to explore the island, which was rocked by a hurricane just after our visit. Houston, just a short drive north, also suffered the effects of Hurricane Harvey. That big city was a delight, with amazing food, museums and green spaces.
No, you do not automatically think of Vegas as a place to take kids (and late at night, out on the streets it is definitely not), but there are many kid-friendly things to do there. We took our boys last year (they were 11 and 13), and they loved the fun places to eat and the cool things to see: a dolphin show, an aquarium, a Broadway-style show, magic shows, the mini Eiffel tower, the roller coaster and arcade at New York New York, to name just a few. Hiking and dune buggy riding just outside of town are also great for families.
Go North: Minneapolis, Duluth and the Mall of America
When the boys were 8 and 10 we headed about eight hours north for Minneapolis, then we spent a few days in Duluth, Minn.
We had just a bit of time in downtown Minneapolis before checking into the Blu hotel inside the Mall of America. I've never seen anything like this mall. For the shoppers in your family — so many stores. For the adventurers — so many rides: roller coasters, a Log Flume type ride and many more. There was also an aquarium in the mall that the kids loved.
Some friends of ours had been to Duluth, just a couple of hours north of Minneapolis, and told us about how beautiful it was. Honestly, if I ever leave St. Louis, I'm moving to Duluth. It was small but not too small. It was naturally gorgeous, with wooded areas and views of Lake Superior. It's the perfect kind of place to unwind ... and possibly retire.
Go East: Charleston, the Smokies and Kiawah Island
In the summer of 2016 our vacation plans took us first to Kiawah Island, just outside of Charleston. It's about a 14-hour drive, which we did all in one day. We stayed in the gorgeous Sanctuary resort on the small island known for its nature programs and alligators.
Next, just a couple of days in Charleston, a city I'd love to return to. Studying the history alone would take a week. We loved visiting Fort Sumter and especially the plantation where "North and South" was filmed.
From there we traveled to the Smoky Mountain National Park. We met my parents for a stay in a cabin in Pigeon Forge, but when we got there the air conditioning wasn't working. Wyndham moved us to a 12-bed, 12-bath cabin the mountains with a private pool. We almost didn't want to leave to hike, go to Dollywood or go whitewater rafting. But we were glad we did.
I'm sure Quebec City is lovely in the summer. But it's simply magical in the winter. If your schedules allow for a winter trip, this is my favorite family vacation.
Part of it was because my oldest played in the world's biggest hockey tournament for 12-year-olds. But the city itself is what is so spectacular. It feels like Europe with its cobblestone streets and quaint shops, but the natural beauty, covered in layers of snow win your heart.