The couples watched as their stuff was loaded from their vehicles into the dock carts by the marina staff as they all made their way down the marina ramp to their rental houseboat. The excitement of taking their first houseboating vacation was starting to kick in and they could hardly wait to get started. This group of 12 adventurous friends had traveled from their homes in San Antonio, Texas, to Lake Ouachita in Arkansas for their annual retreat away from kids, work and all other responsibilities.
With little boating experience and even less houseboating experience, it would be natural for these friends to have plenty of questions before taking the rental houseboat out for the first time. However, this easy-going group wasn’t necessarily asking the types of questions that most newbies tend to ask. Instead, their biggest concern was which channel would the Texas A&M game be on and if the marina was positive they’d be able to pick up the game with the houseboat satellite system. For them, being able to watch college football that weekend was their top priority and the rest was just details.
While there have been a variety of different versions of the group that have traveled and vacationed over the years, the majority of the six couples have done several different trips together. The annual trips include beach vacations to Corpus Christi several times, Cancun and Cozumel Mexico and several other fun destinations.
“For the most part we go somewhere every year, but this trip to Arkansas was one-of-a-kind,” says Theresa Whitney. “It was a longer trip and much farther from home, plus it was something none of us had ever done before so we were super excited once we committed. We’re always up for an adventure that includes trying something new.”
Most of the friends attend University United Methodist Church in San Antonio and credit their affiliation with that church for bringing them together as friends many years ago. They don’t all attend the same church today, but they still refer to themselves as the church group from Texas.
With the crystal clear water and miles and miles of beautiful shoreline, it’s easy to see why Lake Ouachita is a popular houseboat destination. With a couple of different options for houseboat rentals, the group selected Almost Home Houseboat Rentals at the North Shores Resort in Jessieville, which is just west of Hot Springs Village in Arkansas.
The rental company offers three-, four- and seven-day houseboat rentals and owners Gary and Julie Williams do everything they can to make sure your experience is a positive one.
“Julie was fantastic to work with,” says Theresa. “I did the coordinating for this trip and Julie was a doll to work with. I made lots of preliminary phone calls and emails and the whole staff was so easy to work with and answered all my questions promptly. It made the whole experience a real pleasure.”
Adds Linda Hearne, “They were so helpful in helping us get connected with fishing licenses, air for inner tubes and of course showing us all the little nuances about the boat and living on a boat for four days.”
The group selected one of the 16- by 75-foot luxury houseboats from the fleet, which offers six private bedrooms so each couple could have their own room.
Being new to houseboating, the task of operating and being responsible for a 75-foot vessel can be a little intimidating; of course, that doesn’t apply to this group of friends.
“Barry Heath is the manager and he took us out to the main channel and then when we came back in he came out and drove the boat back to the slip at the marina,” says John Eadie. “That would have been the hardest part without Barry. Otherwise, it really wasn’t too difficult. I think it helped that the lake had wide open space and it wasn’t crowded when we were there. You have to know where you are headed though, as those big boats don't turn quickly. It takes at least three to five people to park it on an island at night to tie it up properly.”
Adds Theresa, “I personally did not drive the boat, but the men seemed to be able to maneuver it without problem. Tying up was an experience the first time, but after that we didn’t have any trouble docking as we tried different islands each night.”
Without a set schedule, the group were free to go where their hearts desired and do whatever they felt like doing, which by definition is the perfect vacation. Activities ranged from swimming, fishing, reading and for a lot of the friends the best part was just relaxing.
“We made sure to take advantage of all the houseboat had to offer,” says Theresa. We spent an afternoon in the hot tub, played cards on the upper deck in the evenings, watched our Aggie football team from Texas A&M on the big screen and barbecued every night. But my favorite part was probably the early mornings when I could just sit on the deck with a cup of coffee and my dearest friends and watch the sun come up over the lake. These are sweet times with sweet friends.”
With the houseboat vacation deemed a complete success, it will be hard to top this adventure on future outings as the group moves forward. While plans for the annual trip in 2014 are still be considered, it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if the group found themselves back at Almost Home Houseboat Rentals.
“We would absolutely vacation with this rental company again and we have already recommended them multiple times over to our other friends,” says Theresa. The lake itself is beautiful and peaceful and plenty big enough to enjoy for multiple days.”