Galveston Christmas and Cold Season Adventures

GalvestonChristmas

We set out for Galveston in mid-December after getting over a nasty cold – without Daddy, who had to work overtime. Moody Gardens had invited me to attend their Festival of Lights and come take a few fun guided educational tours and participate in all the Christmas attractions they had to offer. It was going to be a really fun adventure (we knew this because of our visit to Moody Gardens over the summer – and previous visits in prior years). Plus, we all had cabin fever because mama had been sick for two full weeks with bronchitis and was just feeling human again.

We were sad to leave Daddy, but we didn’t want to miss out on meeting Pikaboo the Penguin!

Drive Thru Punks

Token sad face shot: Do we look sad enough? Sorry, Daddy!

It rained the whole way there. Kevin would say that was payback for leaving him in Austin while we went to have fun. Hey, at least it wasn’t really cold, though. I think the temp was about 74 degrees that day. December in Texas is pretty mild most of the time.

Morgan made a little video of the trip. Thankfully, even though my SUV was having some stuttering difficulties (which we fixed the following weekend), we made it there safely. It’s about a four hour drive from Austin to Galveston, and since it is our closest beach, it’s worth it. My Ford truck has over 200,000 miles on it, and quite a few of them have been spent between Houston and Galveston!

#latergram #moodygardens #festivaloflights #christmas

We were amazed at all the pretty lights when we got there, but had no idea how extensive the light show would be. It was by far the best up-close, walk-through holiday lights display I’ve ever seen. It was much preferable to the drive-through kind that goes by too fast and involves a lot of traffic. There’s nothing worse than traffic to kill your festive mood.

Upon arriving we had dinner at the Garden Restaurant inside the Visitor Center area of one of the Pyramids. We enjoyed the buffet. There were others, who were already done eating, enjoying S’mores by the poolside fire pit. What a fun idea!

Moody Gardens Mile Long Trail of Lights!  #mgmediatour13

Pretty soon we all were lining up to enter the Festival of Lights. I had no idea prior to attending this field trip that Moody Gardens is open ALL YEAR, including holidays like Christmas. The Festival of Lights boasts being the largest holiday lighting event on the Gulf Coast and they get over 125,000 visitors each year just to see it. They have an outdoor skating rink and an Arctic Slide with inter-tubes, too (and a tiny slide for the little dudes who are too small to ride the big one). Even if the weather is mild, you can still “feel like” you are experiencing a real winter (without the frostbitten fingers).

Just for your information, the Festival of Lights starts each year in mid-November and kicks off with Santa parachuting in and live performances from various local organizations. Next year they are upping the ante with an Ice Sculpture Exhibit. I can’t wait to see that! Some of the sculptures will be made from 100 pound blocks (be sure to bring your heavy coats because it will be kept at 9 degrees)!

Nutcracker  #mgmediatour13 #christmas #lights

It takes a little over an hour to stroll through the lights. I loved that I was getting exercise without even thinking about it, and my little ones walked the entire way without a single complaint. My little guys were four and two – and I didn’t take a stroller! They were so amazed by all the Christmas songs playing as we walked along, the moving light displays, the beauty of the reflections on the bay with all the glittering lights, and the enormity of the glass pyramids. They chattered about everything and had a fantastic time. It was fun for ALL ages!

In the middle of the light tour – just when you need a break – they provide some benches to sit on, and every few minutes a new sound and light show Nativity begins. This part nearly made me cry. I was so excited to see a large venue like Moody Gardens with a genuine Christian Nativity as the feature show during the light tour. It was my favorite part and totally impressed me. I’d be glad to come back again and again as a tradition because they don’t shun the true meaning of Christmas.

#hoot #owl #latergram #moodygardens #festivaloflights

And of course, as you would expect, the tour continues with rainforest animals, sea creatures, butterflies, Sponge Bob characters, and all of the familiar holiday themes you might expect. I loved the hoot owl. I may have a little obsession with owls and foxes.

#latergram #christmas #festivaloflights #moodygardens #galveston #holiday #lights #fun

But hey – I’m not begrudging anyone their own favorite animal crushes. Trust me, if you like a particular animal, chances are if they don’t have a real one inside one of these pyramids for you to see, they have at least a replica in this amazingly detailed light show. Many of the LED critters make noises, too… or at least they play different animal noises from speakers hidden in the bushes nearby. It sounds like a regular zoo in some areas – when they aren’t playing all your favorite Christmas tunes!

#school of #fish  at #moodygardens #igtexas #festivaloflights #Christmas #lights #latergram

I was thrilled to learn about all the cool events Moody Gardens has to offer during the fall and winter. Most people only think of going to the beach during the summer, but I’ve always been a glow-in-the-dark non-beachy kind of gal, and I love walking on the beach when it isn’t blistering hot – in my clothes… even my cowgirl boots! I love combing the beach for sea shells and being ALONE out there on the sand, without a thousand half-naked people. Yes, I’m a little different, but that’s OK. I like having the beach to myself.

Some events I didn’t know Moody offers in Mid-November through December are:

  • Annual Festival of Lights kickoff (this was their 12th year – how could I have missed it this long?!)
  • Birding classes
  • Boy Scout Merit Badge Day: Communications, Oceanography, Fish & Wildlife, Reptile & Amphibian
  • Holiday Half Marathon – for the non-exercise challenged set
  • Holiday Gift Market (at the Moody Convention Center)
  • Boy Scout Merit Badge Day: Environmental Science, Mammal Study, Nature
  • “A Magical Christmas 2D” Dinner and Show
  • Back-stage tours with animals and the shark tank divers, educational classes, and guided tours of the pyramids

Magical Lights

My boys loved the train and the fun balls hanging from the trees the best out of the Festival of Lights tour. They called this little wolf “Silver” after my mom’s Siberian Husky who died this past year. She was a great dog and we all miss her. It was sweet to have a little reminder during the Christmas season for them.

Texas

They had some Texas themed lights, too. Loved this boot and yellow roses display. Some of my out-of-state displaced friends shared it on their facebook page after I Instagrammed it. This was probably my favorite of all the displays besides the nativity. I have a Texas themed Christmas tree with chili pepper lights and I collect the Texas Capitol Ornaments each year. I just love adding a little Texas to my holiday traditions!

Babes in Toyland ;) #moodygardens #mgmediatour13 #festivaloflights #christmas

What memories! My kids are going to beg me to take me back to Moody next year. I only hope they invite me back for a behind the scenes look at the Ice Sculpture addition – and maybe another date with their awesome Penguins!

Santa vs Snowman 3D #imax #moodygardens #mgmediatour13

Moody Gardens is open to the public until ten o’clock in the evening during the holidays. In addition to the Festival of Lights they have holiday themed IMAX theater shows such as “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas 4D”, “Polar Express 4D”, and “Light Before Christmas 3D”, “Santa vs. The Snowman 3D”, and “Nutcracker 3D”. We watched Santa vs. the Snowman in 3D and although it wasn’t my type of show, the babies thought it was really funny. It was kind of like a Star Wars spoof between snow men and Santa with his elves.

Moody Gardens Hotel left us Christmas cookies!  #cookieLOVE

If you have the ability to stay in the hotel and stay to really enjoy more of the endless list of opportunities Moody Gardens has to offer, you won’t be disappointed. Even though we were there two days, we still weren’t able to do half of what they have to offer. A longer stay would be a dream come true.

I don’t know if it was just because they loved us, or if they offer this to every Christmas guest, but we were wowed by the cookies in our room and the pretty decor after their remodel. My favorite part of the hotel stay was cuddling with the kids in our room, watching the free Channel 47 showing of “A Christmas Carol” staring George C. Scott. They had quite a few Christmas movies playing on continual loop for guests. Well, that, and the fact that I didn’t have to make the beds or wash the towels the next day.

White Chocolate Snowman #cute!

I fell in love with this white chocolate snowman. I can forgive them for not making it out of dark chocolate, because even though white chocolate is from the devil, who wants to eat a snowman that looks like he’s made of dirt? And of course, you should NEVER eat a yellow snowman… but I digress…

Confession: I took this snowman home and set him on my kitchen window to smile at me until January 1st. Then, I handed his poor little self over to the toddlers… and he is no more.

I love my babies.  #latergram #moodygardens

On Saturday morning, after a quick photo in front of the tree in the conference room, they served us a hot breakfast with plenty of fresh fruit and brought in some folks from the surrounding area who shared about their family-centered educational and fun attractions that Galveston has to offer. I love the word they used while describing what Moody Gardens is all about : “Edutainment”. So awesome. Can you tell I’m THAT homeschool mom (the one that tries to cram an educational twist in to every vacation or holiday field trip)?

Did you know that according to Moody Gardens mission statement, they are “a public, non-profit, educational destination utilizing nature in advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research”? You can follow @MoodyGardens on twitter or follow them on their Facebook page at : www./facebook.com/MoodyGardens.

I ?? bacon. So do my kids.

Right after the bacon at breakfast, we got to smell the fish. Err, I mean, we got to go back-stage to meet one of the penguin stars in the Aquarium Pyramid. I have to admit… THIS was what cinched the deal for me. And seeing Pikaboo up close was totally worth the entire drive down to Galveston (despite how she smelled)!

Penguin Food #moodygardens #mgmediatour13 #fish #aquarium

Pikaboo was a fantastic host. Unfortunately, I did not get to feed or pet her, but we were within an arm’s reach and she was so fun to watch. I heard it through the grapevine that smaller groups get to touch her and possibly feed her, but I’d have to check with the authorities on whether that is truth or fiction. We had about eleven in our group and quite a few were eager youngsters who wanted nothing more than to plant a big fat kiss on that cuddly little bird… so maybe they were afraid we would scare her or something.

#Penguin 15 yo : 'Pikaboo' ?? #moodygardens #mgmediatour13

Can you even stand how cute she is? In my own Elmira way, “I’d love to hug her and squeeze her for my very own”. However, she would probably peck my eyes out if I tried; cute as she may be.

Pikaboo and her pals were fun to watch. We spent the most time (when we weren’t being hurried along to keep up with the guide) at the Penguin tank. My boys have been wanting me to read to them about penguins and sea animals since we visited Moody Gardens… and that makes this homeschool mom happy!

Penguin watching. #moodygardens #mgmediatour13

They have more than 90 penguins and a few different species. The Aquarium pyramid is also the largest aquarium in Texas and houses life from four different oceans. They have sea lions, seals, a gazillion types of fish, touch-tanks, seahorses, and….

#Shark infested water... #warning #moodygardens #mgmediatour13

SHARK INFESTED WATER! Yikes! We had a back-stage tour of this area, too. We learned about the way they set up the shark feeding schedules and what they feed them. We learned that the divers have to get in the tank and hand feed many of the sharks to make sure they all eat an adequate amount of food (how would you like THAT job? Ahhh!)… and we got perilously close to the edge of the BIG BOY shark tank!

Perilously close to the #hungry #sharks

No pushing, no shoving! Scary sharks below! The sharks might be less scary than a cranky toddler, though.

Lionfish

There’s something so calming about aquarium tanks filled with gorgeous sea life. Lion fish are some of my favorites. I used to have a salt water tank before I had kids and we had a lion fish until our tank got infested with a red fungus. We eventually had to take some of our bigger fish back to the store and lost most of our smaller ones. It was so sad, because salt water fish are smart and have such amazing personalities. I loved watching our lion fish sneak up on ghost shrimp and inhale them in just one breath.

Salt Water Gems  #moodygardens

We weren’t ever able to keep a reef tank alive. We were too busy and broke prior to having kids – hey – we still are, so not much has changed besides us being smart enough to decrease our number of pets. Reef tanks are my favorite type of aquarium tanks and require the most constant and careful attention to stay healthy.

My favorite sea animals are seahorses, pipe fish, and goby fish (especially the Pearly Jawfish and Catalina Goby). I could watch them all day long. If I had a lot of money, I would hire someone to professionally tend a large tank in my house… but I know all too well how much time and money it takes to keep these beautiful gems of the sea alive and happy… (more time than house-training a puppy), so I’ll wait until all the kids have grown and moved out before I consider another full time job like that again.

Underwater Adventure #moodygardens #mgmediatour13

The shark tunnel is a fun treat. I don’t know how Moody Gardens manages to tend to over 1.5 million gallons worth of tanks with hundreds of thousands of life-forms, but I’m sure glad they do. My kids love visiting and seeing them all. The aquarium is my favorite of all the pyramids.

Mandarin Ducks #latergram #moodygardens #nature #ducks #birds

After we visited the Aquarium, we stopped in the Rainforest Pyramid. I’ve been before, and it’s great – but I would HIGHLY suggest doing your next visit with a tour guide. It made all the difference in the world for our time there. I’ve been known to skip over the Rainforest Pyramid and spend all day in the Aquarium, but I’m so glad we didn’t do that this time. I enjoyed taking time to get to know more about the animals, birds, fish, plants, and insects there. Some favorites from this trip were the Scarlet Ibis (from which our guide gave us a few pretty pink feathers), and the Mandarin Ducks. They are so cute! They looked like toys!

What are you looking at?

The iggy-wannas were interesting to watch, too. They rotated their eyes around and watched us watching them.

Orchids at #moodygardens

Just as interesting as the animals (for me, anyway) are the awesome plants on display in this glass jungle. Tree ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and corpse flowers! It made me want to come home and put a little more effort in my gardening pursuits. While I might not be able to grow tropical plants in the Texas Hill Country, there’s a lot of landscaping inspiration for plant and flower lovers in the Rainforest Pyramid.

Orchids #flowers #nature #beauty #tropical #nature #moodygardens #lovely #mextures

Beautiful.

#Birds #latergram #nofilter #canon5dmarkII #moodygardens #blue

These lovebirds were my favorite of the winged inhabitants. The Hyacinth or Blue Macaw is a magnificent bird.

@clumsycrafter and her cuter than cute crew. #latergram #moodygardens

It was also fun to get to visit with these lovebirds and their little ones for a brief moment or two. I enjoy being part of the Houston blogger group as often as they will include me, and Bobbie is one of the Blog Elevated team that put on the fabulous blog conference in Houston that I attended last fall. [Note: This September they are having BE at Moody Gardens! I hope they’ll invite me to be their photographer again!]

Bottle Fish Sculpture #moodygardens #mgmediatour13

I’m not sure what this recycled bottle fish sculpture is supposed to represent. My best guess is promoting recycling to prevent pollution? Either way, it looked groovy lit up at night when we drove up and while we were walking through the Festival of Lights tour. Right next to these fish, they set up a few tents full of all sorts of glow in the dark items, souvenirs, drinks, carnival-type foods and hot chocolate.

I’m also not sure what the expressions the kids are making in the fish photo, but we were TIRED and ready to EAT LUNCH after we said our goodbyes Saturday afternoon… which brings me to my FAVORITE Galveston restaurant (and no, it’s not at Moody Gardens, despite all the wonderful food we ate while we were there). I won’t come to Galveston Island without stopping at Mario’s Seawall Italian & Pizzaria.

Because the beach isn't the beach without pizza and a cannoli from Mario's.

It might just be the best pizza in the entire state of Texas… and their cannoli is my favorite Galveston treat. I know, I know, you would expect me to rave about seafood, but this spot has been a family tradition of ours since before I married my husband. He took me out on a date here and I fell in love with him – AND Mario’s amazing food – at the same time. We always stop in when we are near the coast.

Seagull #IGtexas #birds

And of course, we can’t go to Galveston without stopping in to greet the seabirds at Stewart Beach. My daughter’s name, Morgan, means “by the sea” – and boy did we not know how prophetic it would be. She collects sand and shells and bird feathers, and loves the ocean. She begs me to take her to Galveston when ever we are headed to Houston to see family.

I always love when our journey leads us to the Texas island…

Remembering the beach... #mexturesapp

Some other favorite attractions in addition to Moody Gardens in the Galveston area are:

The Galveston Holiday Magic Program presented by the Galveston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
The events and fun are next to non-stop on the island during the holidays and I’ve added a ton of things to my must-do list for future holidays with my family after finding out about them on this trip. They have a lot going on at the Grand 1894 Opera House, holiday lighting ceremonies and strolls, Victorian Homes Tour, Dickens on the Strand (a historic slice of Victorian London in Texas), Santa Train at the Railroad Museum, concerts, and of course, there are the regular museums and shows that Galveston boasts year-round such as the Ocean Star Drilling Rig Museum, the Bishop’s Palace, Moody Mansion, Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast, the Great Storm at Pier 21 Theater, Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, and the Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship Elissa Tours.

Sea Birds

Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark
I had no idea had an indoor heated section open during the fall and winter)! For those of you who like water parks and avoiding the northern weather, there’s a fantastic way to enjoy your bathing suit in November and December!

For Transportation Lovers (Unit Study, anyone?)

  • The Lone Star Flight Museum offers 100,000 square feet of aviation history and aircraft amazement. If you have little boys who love planes, this is a must-see stop on your field trip list. What I wouldn’t give to take a real flight in one of these shiny antiques!
  • Seawolf Park has the USS Cavalla (WWII Submarine) and the USS Stewart (destroyer escourt – 1 of only 3 worldwide).
  • The Railroad Museum is great – haven’t been since my big kids were little, but my youngest set are train-lovers and this is on my list.
  • Port Bolivar Ferry – who can top free ferry rides between Port Bolivar and Galveston? Drive on, get out, walk upstairs, and watch the seagulls play as you and your vehicle are transported across the bay!

galvestonmap

Another Galveston tour I would highly recommend (but only in fair weather) is the Houston Ship Channel’s Sam Houston Boat Tour (Point C on the above map). If you take 146 up to Houston on your way home, you will pass through the industrial landscape of Texas City (great Instagram photo op!) and Battleship Texas (point B on the above map) within 36 miles. {Battleship Texas even has overnight camp-out field trips for those who are brave enough to fight the mosquitoes.} Close by, but a little off the beaten path is the Armand Bayou Nature Center (another awesome field trip). In another short 19 miles, you can stop at the Houston Ship Channel and take the Sam Houston Boat Tour ride and identify all the different ships by their flags. I would recommend all of these outdoor activities when the wind and temperature are mild, but certainly they aren’t just reserved for summer!

Galveston in December #purple #beach #horizon #landscape #igtexas #latergram

It may be a different way to celebrate the holidays with visions of seagulls and sandy waves, but it is certainly enjoyable. I’m so glad we went and we hope to go back many times in the future – no matter what season it is!

Thank you again, Moody Gardens and Galveston, for a wonderful and memorable family adventure! We love you!

In Him,

Heather

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Disclaimer: We were invited to Moody Gardens as part of their media tour for 2013 and they provided accommodations, food, and event tickets for us without charge. They did not sponsor this post, however, and all opinions are our own.

Credits: Map by Googlemaps.com

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