Last weekend, Stinky took a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas (home of Mountain Valley Spring Water). It’s in Hot Springs National Park, the oldest federal reserve, which is about 7 hours south of Kansas City and an hour west of Little Rock (location of the largest commercial airport in Arkansas). The drive down there on 71 Hwy from Kansas City is a fun one. Twisty, windy, hilly and two lane, so if you get behind a truck, it can get a little slow.
Hot Springs is a town rich in history. Mobsters, Indians, natural hot springs (sans sulfur), baseball, gambling, horse racing and the first combined Army and Navy General Hospital. It’s also an arts destination, drawing many visitors every year for the thriving arts scene. Also, Witness Productions’ Passion Play is performed outside of town every summer (close to Panther Valley Ranch – a lovely place to stay).
Once we got into town we checked into our hotel, The Arlington. We’ve stayed there a few times prior but this was Stinky’s first visit. It’s a 90 year old hotel so it has its problems. Main one this time was that no one seemed to care much about the problems and they use the age of the hotel as a reason to do nothing. At least it seems like that. I’m really not one to go all “picky Trip Advisor high expectations” traveler, but for someone who is, this would not measure up. We were in a suite that had a thermal bath (meaning that the water in the tub tap came directly from the hot springs). The cold water wouldn’t turn on at all and the hot water never stopped running. Not just dripping, but running. Luckily, we couldn’t hear it since it was deep into the bathroom and far from the beds but it seemed so wasteful. The wallpaper was coming off in a corner, the sheets and duvet were stained and a curtain rod was about to fall down. The television was old enough that it had no HDMI input to hook up an iPad or similar device for movie watching in the evening (turned out not to be an issue). The elevators are S-L-O-W.
Since it was in-between weather-wise, the HVAC ran all the time. The temperature on the day we checked in was pretty neutral and the desk told us that while the fan would be running, there would be nothing heated or cooled coming out, just air. Wrong. It was hot air. In response, we were told to open a window if we got hot or ask for more blankets if it got cold. The next day, since it was fairly chilly, the heat was on for real and there is no thermostat in the room – you get what you get. The temperature issue was the only thing that really put me off about the hotel. The rest of it is just things that would probably bother someone who expected 4 stars out of a 2.5 star hotel. Anywhere that has popcorn in the lobby all day long is not a 4 star hotel…
We did go to the spa there at the hotel. Didn’t do the baths this time around, though. The spa experience is… okay. You can pay the same price elsewhere and get a room that isn’t an open at the top cubicle where you can hear your neighbor snoring, along with more modern facilities. But again, for the historical experience, it’s good.
We didn’t eat at the hotel restaurant. We’ve eaten there on previous visits and it is fairly unimpressive considering the price. We did go down for a drink at the hotel bar.
Mainly, the hotel has location going for it, being smack in the middle of the historic district and within walking distance of a lot of things. The rooms are adequate but higher priced than they deserve to be. It is a destination for several events like proms, weddings and political rallies so you may find yourself in a crowd during the spring.
We always eat at Angel’s on the first night. Their service sometimes leaves something to be desired (in that one particular waitress is kind of bitchy and was last year as well. Once is a bad day, twice is a personality) but the food is always excellent.
The next day we wandered a bit up and down Central Avenue after having breakfast at Granny’s Kitchen. The waitress was friendly but scattered. The food was pretty good though. Central Avenue is, as you might divine from the name, the main drag that goes through the center of the park. There a lots of little shops and art galleries all up and down the street. We usually try to go on a First Friday when all the galleries are open late, but lots of the shops stay open later than you might expect anyway.
Along one side of the street is Bathhouse Row, a group of eight buildings in various states of open for business and renovation that date back to the early 1900s. I have been to The Buckstaff quite a few times and it’s well worth the extremely reasonable price to experience as close as you can get to the historical bathing adventure. The Quapaw is open now as well as a bathhouse, The Superior is open as a brewery/gelato place (with awesome staff and deliciously creamy and dense gelato) and The Lamar is now open as Bathhouse Row Emporium, a gift shop. It’s nice to see the progress being made along the Row. When I first started going, other than The Fordyce doing business as a museum, only The Buckstaff was open.
We stopped in at Central Park Mining. You can sluice your own selection of rocks in a trough there in the store. Touristy to the max but he has some good product. Unfortunately he also charges higher prices than other similar stores. There are tons of rock stores in Hot Springs, by the way, so if you are into rocks (like I am) do some shopping around before you buy. Unless you fall in love with something specific right away, of course.