I got to Test Drive the new Dallas CityPass! AWESOME!

May 17, 2015

There’s an old adage that says “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” I was skeptical when I got an invitation from CityPass to come to Dallas on a “press trip.” I admit that I’d never heard of a “Press Trip” (and now I understand why reporters keep this lovely little perk close to the chest.)
They offered to put me up in a POSH hotel, provide all the meals and, best of all, a free CityPass to all the best activity venues in Dallas.
Since I couldn’t detect any catch and it was a personal note signed by an individual with a real return email, I forwarded it to my friend Kimberly, an editor at the Oklahoman,  and asked her if she thought it was on the up and up.
She knew all about press trips. They’re geared to travel writers and facilitate tourism to the venue/state/country sponsoring the trip. She and her husband have been to India on someone else’s dime for the purpose of writing about it in the paper. She suggested that I ask if I could bring my husband, and said that if I took the trip, they’d buy the story from me.
So I did. But still entertaining a few trembling thoughts of being trapped in a hotel conference room and held prisoner until I bought a timeshare in the Bronx, I made doubly sure that the press trip was being provided at no cost, including the CityPass.
It was! The trip proved to be an exception to the above rule of being too good to be true! It was AWESOME!
We stayed at the Anatole Hilton. The place is huge, upscale by any measure. Beautiful Asian art is displayed everywhere, some of it ancient, much that is astonishingly intricate and beautiful. It makes the Anatole a destination in itself. The room was luxurious and serene, and every amenity (indoor and outdoor pools, exercise rooms, vast gardens and walking paths, restaurants, spa, shopping, etc) seemed over-the-top inviting.

The fun and friendly CityPass people picked us 8 writers (and one cheerful husband) up at 10:30 and took us to the  first venue on the City Pass, the Reunion Tower. If you’ve been to Dallas, you’ve seen the geodesic ball on top of a tower, looking much like a mammoth lollypop in the Dallas Skyline. At the top, there are two rotating decks, with a restaurant and event space, with spectacular views, high power telescopes and fun interactive technology for learning about the city and getting your bearings. (Pictures of the chocolate tower dessert we were served will go to the Oklahoman, so you’ll have to see it there! Here’s a picture that’s too cloudy to be printed in paper. These other photos are ones I probably won’t use in other media, but thought you’d like to see. It was really cloudy and rainy all over Dallas while we were there, so I took these photos with my new camera, but they’re not as good as they’d be with a blue sky. But I like my new camera and want to use the pics I took! 

Reunion Tower is 560 feet tall.

Next stop on the CityPass venue was the Sixth Floor Museum. It’s the place from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. I had worried that it would be a little too morbid for my taste, but I really enjoyed it. It goes through the Kennedys’  history from the election onward. (Marco Rubio take note that historians credit JFK’s win in part to the fact that the first televised debate in history was between handsome JFK and profusely sweating Richard Nixon. Better fix that!) It was solemn: almost reverent. The presentation was artfully created so that the politics involved were put in context without slant. I felt that they were determined to tell an honest story without adding their opinions. They do address the conspiracy theories, and left a small window open in my mind that it’s possible. . .

The Dallas Book Repository houses the sixth floor Museum. JFK was assassinated by a shooter from a sixth floor window. I never knew that Lee Harvey Oswald was a temp. employee of the book repository.  (picture taken from the Geo Deck of Reunion Tower)

After the 6th Floor Museum, we had free time at the Anatole. We used it to explore the grounds, take lots of pictures, be fascinated by the art objects, etc. I was kicking myself for not bringing my swim suit to try out the Jr. Olympic size indoor pool. Nobody was using it at the time!
That night, we had dinner at the SER Steak and Spirits Restaurant on the 27th floor. We were facing a panoramic view of the Dallas skyline from our table. We watched the sun go down to  and the lights wink on all over the city. So impressive!

The food at the SER is very expensive, but when you want a REALLY special treat, it’s worth checking out. They were disappointed that we were not partaking of the “Spirits” part of the evening, and offered over and over. (Mormons are tee-totallers) The others in our party seemed to enjoy tasting the various wines that came with each course. The appetizer cheeses and pate’ (and other unusual savory offerings) were all flavorful. . .as good as any I’ve tasted. . .except for one cheese that was very goaty. I would have made a glutton of myself on the brie, the rabbit pate’ and the venison salami if I hadn’t (wisely) wanted to save some appetite for the following courses.
I had the Wagyu Spinalis, (said to be the best part of a Ribeye) It was delicious, as tender as filet mignon, and pleasing on every level. Jeff had the Wagyu Big Rib. We learned that “Wagyu” is the breed of beef, like Angus, and Spinalis is the cut. . .”Big Rib” is an understatement. Though portions are not generally large, his meal had about a pound of fork tender, very flavorful meat in a mango sauce.

Jeff’s 18″ plate. The mango sauce was served smeared like this. What sort of ink-blot images do you see? But it was YUMMY

Everyone enjoyed their meals. Fish, vegetable medley and chicken were all praised.
They brought us every side on the menu and most of them were great. Ironically the dish humbly called “creamed corn,” was one of my favorites. The fresh, sweet flavor was perked up by popcorn and I’ll never serve it again without adding popcorn myself. The asparagus was crisp-tender and yummy, the mashed potatoes were very buttery and flavorful, too. I’d order those again. The “hen in the woods” mushrooms were pleasant but not as earthy as I would have liked. The pasta seemed slightly undercooked in the macaroni and cheese. Tater tots were pleasant but the house ketchup was delicious. Who knew that ketchup could be glamorous, but this was!
The cheese bread (asagio, I think) was fantastic with the cheese incorporated in the dough as well as toasted on top.
 By the time they offered us dessert, I was (almost) too stuffed to enjoy it. The six at our table decided to share a “Millionaire Ice cream cake” and a Molten  Chocolate Cake. The desserts were fine, but not up to the level of the rest of the meal. The chocolate cake was the same idea as I’ve had on cruises, but not as good as my old fashioned Hot Fudge Pudding Cake recipe. Not quite sweet enough and the chocolate flavor was not strong enough for me. The raspberry sorbet helped with the chocolate, but not enough to earn a “decadent” label. The millionaire cake was really good, but again, no homerun. Part of the issue may have been the presentation of the desserts. They seemed strange. The Millionaire cake was in the middle of a splatter of (tasty) but very red sauce and the chocolate molten cake was served on a large (unexplainable) chalkboard-looking tray.

The presentation of the millionaire cake detracted from a very pleasant dessert.
It’s served on a large dinner plate. . .a generous portion.

I saw that the bread pudding had rave reviews online and I’d recommend trying it.
The City Pass announcement was made at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. It was like San Francisco’s “Exploratorium” on steroids. (I haven’t been to the Exploratorium in thirty years. . .it might be just as spectacular.)
There are interactive displays of every branch of science and study in nature. It was the make-up day for cancelled field trips when we were there, so it was packed with joyful school children, but I was tempted to elbow some out of the way and take a turn trying to move pingpong balls with brain waves, racing the T-Rex, testing my own DNA, and a hundred other possibilities. If my party would have waited, I wanted to dance on the musical staircase, too! (They probably wanted to do it, too! I should have asked.)

The last stop on the CityPass was far more dignified, but just as delightful. The Arboretum is a vast garden with beauty everywhere you look. It was raining pretty well by the time we finished a delicious lunch in a garden room of the old mansion, so there were very few visitors there with us. Words don’t work very well when trying to describe a garden, and snapshots don’t do it justice, but picture fog rising from a ferny dale and drifting over a wide, lush lawn. I needed a whole day there, too.

Red Salvia in the foreground and hanging pots in the test garden in the background.
Flower houses at the Arboretum in the children’s garden.

The CityPass concept is so cool. We bought them in New York. You pay one price and then pick all the venues you want to attend from the list on the CityPass. For the brand new Dallas CityPass, the Bush Presidential Library is offered as an alternative to the Arboretum and the Dallas Zoo is offered as an alternative to the Sixth Floor Museum. The back of the CityPass booklet has a bunch of good coupons for other venues, including discounts for special displays at the (free) downtown art museum, (been there for the King Tut display a few years ago. The coupon gives a discount to the current special display.) A Dallas City Pass costs $44, which represents a 41% savings.
The CEO of CityPass, Megan Allen, expects that an electronic version of the CityPass will be in place for smartphones within a couple of years.
Not only does it save you money, it plans your vacation for you, with the best venues in town listed on the CityPass. Check it out at CityPass.com. Dallas is the 12th city to get CityPass, so you might want to see the rest of the list.
It may seem too good to be true, but there’s no catch, just a great value and convenience.
I’m looking forward to going back to Dallas and visiting the Aboretum when it’s not raining and the Perot Nature and Science museum. You could spend a week there and not have a chance to enjoy the whole thing. We’re also going to visit the Bush Presidential Museum, (it’s said to be really interesting). What a treat!

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