Ghosts and Giraffes at Houston's Zoo Boo 2014

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The Houston Zoo's annual Zoo Boo is always a popular and packed affair. Part of it is because we usually hope that it will be one of the first weekends where you can visit the zoo when it isn't quite so bloody hot, and partly as an excuse for kids to get more than a single wearing out of their Halloween costumes.

This year the crowds were enormous. So much so that I actually parked at the Houston Museum of Natural Science parking garage and legged it to the zoo from there. By the by, if you're looking for a good day to visit the museum, Zoo Boo is it. There's no one there, even by the late afternoon.

As there is every year, there was plenty of trick or treating for kids at the various candy corners. In general the zoo gives out good stuff, too. Not like full-size Snickers bars or anything, but not dollar store fare, either. Considering the sheer number of kids who come through, it's a good haul, even if there did seem to be fewer candy corners this year than there were last year.

There was a pretty nice games section set up for kids. Throwing bean bags into a witch's cauldron or trying to knock down zombies with them. There were even kid-size high striker games. All of these were free to play, by the way, and all of them handed out little prizes regardless of whether you won. Considering how every big family event you seem to go to is packed with little booths draining you of a couple of dollars at a time, it was a nice touch.

The only complaint I had there was the inflatable pumpkin maze. Essentially it was just a bouncy house, but for some reason it had a strict "6 and up" rule that left my five-year-old crying in my arms when she was turned away. I really don't get the point of this. Less than ten feet away they let her swing a giant mallet without regard to her age, and it's not like anyone polices the 48" rule over at the otter habitat rope-climbing area. The latter, by the way, is usually full of a mass of trapped kids whenever we attend, leaving some unlucky parent to snake inside and unplug the backup one scared child at a time.

The children's zoo was where they pulled out all the stops. From the moment we got there, it was a whirlwind of activity. There were mystery boxes, which always scare the crap out of me because I saw Flash Gordon and the weird tree you stick your hand into when I was much younger than I should have.

There was also a pumpkin puppet show where the jack-o'-lanterns would try to guess your costume or compliment you on it. Once they retired, they returned as giant sparkly ghosts using spangled lamé draped over umbrellas. I really cannot describe how wonderfully into this performance the actors were, blunting the edge of terror any kid is going to feel at a nine anything by making the most adorable noises and interacting in the warmest of ways. I could have watched them for hours. I've seen mall Santas have a harder time selling themselves as trustworthy and wonderful to children.

Zoo Boo remains a tradition that never ceases to bring out the best in kids who go there. Painting pumpkins in the pumpkin patch (again, free with ticket) or just seeing all the other kids in their costumes turns a normal day at our already excellent zoo into something just a little bit more. If you don't mind the crowds and the walk, it's always worth it.

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