Agent Ellie Barton, from Hays Travel in Darlington, wants to take her family to Texas after being made to feel like a celebrity on Travel Weekly’s Cover Stars trip to the Lone Star State.
Q: How did you enjoy being bumped up to business class by both American Airlines and British Airways?
A: I had never flown long-haul before, so now I feel like I can’t go without the upgrade. It was amazing. The staff on American Airlines were so friendly. We took selfies in the cockpit with the pilot. I’m actually scared of flying, but the cabin crew was brilliant when there was turbulence. BA was really relaxing on the night flight home – I must have slept the whole way. I was so fresh when I woke up that it felt like any other morning.
Q: Did the service continue on arrival?
A: We got through immigration at Fort Worth and there were two limos waiting outside. But we needed only one because they were so big. Wayne, the driver, was dead canny. We called him Lil Wayne, like the rapper. He gave us Kool-Aid it couldn’t have been more American.
Q: How were the hotels?
A: The Sheraton Fort Worth was incredible, especially the fountains opposite. But the Omni Austin was my favourite. I had a room with a balcony about 20 floors up, overlooking the downtown streets where music was playing. We also stayed at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, which was really nice.
Q: What was Austin like?
A: Austin was my favourite place. I enjoyed the bars, even though I’m 20 and couldn’t drink. One night, we went to a Mexican restaurant where all the girls were in great outfits and served beer in giant American footballs. In the day time, they took us to Lady Bird Lake. At the top of one hill, it was so rural, but you could see all the big buildings in the city, so it was an amazing contrast.
Q: How was the shopping with Simon Shopping Destinations?
A: Grand Prairie Premium Outlets sold designer gear, but discounted, a bit like a posh TK Maxx. I must have spent £300 there. I got a Calvin Klein jacket, Tommy Hilfiger handbag, some new trainers and make-up. Then we went to The Domain on the day of my photoshoot. It was huge and there was a Macy’s. I didn’t have much time but I still spent £100. I bought smellies from Victoria’s Secret.
Q: Talk us through your photoshoot.
A: Of all the spots, mine was the best! Everyone said so. It was at a lovely park, with the backdrop of the city skyline. We did it at sunset, which made for an incredible picture. There was a clock tower in the background that changed colour at night, so when it went dark, we got another picture. As it was a public park, people thought I was famous and kept taking photos on their phones. So I told them I was an English reality-TV star, like Kylie Jenner.
Q: Has going to Texas helped you sell the destination?
A: We already sold a lot of holidays to the US, especially New York, Las Vegas and the Golden Triangle of Los Angeles, Vegas and San Francisco. Since I visited, I’ve been suggesting Texas now I know more about it. If people like music, and all things American, then Texas is ideal. I loved it – and I want to go back with my friends and family.
Q: And you got to come to Travel Weekly’s glitzy Globes night as well…
A: Yeah, it was amazing. I won a trip to Palma Nova with Jet2holidays. Having The X Factor man read my name out at the Globes was a dream come true.
Ellie looks a million dollars in her simple yet elegant dress from BCBG Maxazria and dazzling shoes from Bloomingdale’s The Outlet Store. This look is completed with a sparkling choker from Bebe. Ellie’s outfit was created at Grand Prairie Premium Outlets, a Simon Shopping Destinations property offering discounts of 25%-65% off everyday prices, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Her A-list make-up was courtesy of Alison at Origins, and hair by Jeris at The Salon, both located at The Domain, a Simon property.
Ellie’s sales tips
I would suggest Austin to people interested in live music and recommend they stay at the Omni Austin.
Get yourself to ‘cowboy town’ Fort Worth. Visit the Stockyards and Billy Bob’s – and you must see a rodeo.
Grapevine is a great Xmas destination for the North Pole Express and the Gaylord hotel’s festivities.
About our sponsors
Travel Weekly Cover Stars 2017 is running in association with headline sponsor Texas Tourism, travel partners American Airlines and British Airways and makeover partner Simon Shopping Destinations.
Ellie on… celebrity spotting in Austin
I had an image of Texas in my head, which was just loads of cowboys and open space, but it was nothing like that. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. When you think of American celebrities you think they all live in Los Angeles or New York. But when our guide took us to the hills overlooking the city, I was surprised when she pointed out lots of celebrities’ houses. Sandra Bullock’s house was pretty impressive. We were also shown where the founder of Dell, Michael Dell, lives. On the way back, we were taken to a trailer park with a two-year waiting list because Matthew McConaughey has a unit there.
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