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The Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Pizza and Holiday Lights

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Whether you're celebrating the alt-holiday Friday with an aluminum pole for Festivus, lighting the first candle of the menorah on Saturday to begin Hanukkah, or opening presents under the tree this Sunday for Christmas, this is the time of year to celebrate peace, love and joy with family and friends. The Bayou City boasts several opportunities for holiday lights this weekend, plus we've got a casual bike-for-pizza ride and snow-inspired magic by illusionist and sleight-of-hand artist Robby Bennett.

Strap on the helmet and grease the gears — it’s time to saddle up on the old two-wheeler. EastEndBikeRide is organizing another Pedal For Pizza and Pints — a 15- to 20-mile cycling stretch that involves two stops along the way for some delicious Italian pies. Riders gather at D&W Lounge, one of our picks last year for best dive bar. From there, cyclists will roll out at a casual pace throughout the city’s historic East End. Group co-founder Judith Cruz Villarreal tells us this is an event for all ages and skill levels. “Come out and bring the family. People will be riding bikes of all types. Single speed to mountain bike to BMX riders turn out,” she says. Pro tip: Bring cash for food, a spare tire tube and bicycle lights. This looks like a great way to burn off those holiday calories, making it one of our picks for Friday night.

7 to 11 p.m. Friday. 911 Milby. For information, visit facebook.com/events/296036087463829. Free.

We think the venue staff panicked just a bit when they saw the tech rider for Robby Bennett’s next show; it calls for snow and fog machines, confetti and a hazer. The illusionist, magician and sleight-of-hand artist is both headliner and producer of Winter Wonders: The Magic of Robby Bennett and — without giving too much away — we know the spectacle involves snow, specialty lighting and a pair of guest acts. “We have three capuchin monkeys [Sasha, Cody and Darwin, and wrangler Robert] and an aerial artist,” says Bennett. “Her name is Emma D’Lemma and we’re very lucky that she was even in town; she’s one of the top aerial artists on the planet.” He assures us that D’Lemma makes full use of the 18-foot ceilings, and that his own act includes some back-and-forth with the audience members and family-friendly improv. This looks entertaining for the whole family, putting it on our list for Friday or Saturday.

7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, 1 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 713-521-4533 or visit matchouston.org/events/winter-wonders. $20.

Yes, it’s a three-hour tour, but there isn’t any danger of setting aground on the shore of an uncharted desert isle for this one. Safer than the S.S. Minnow (and way more fun), the Southern Empress has been spruced up for the new year and is taking passengers along Lake Conroe for a Holiday Lights Cruise. Park the little ones on the first floor, where they can stay busy with Christmas music, cookies and games, then head up to the second floor for 21-and-up dancing with a DJ and a cash bar. “On the third floor is an open deck with captain’s quarters. Seating is available and you can enjoy the Christmas lights and the quietness,” says Courtney Russell, online representative for the replica 1860-style paddle-wheeler, though she does warn us to bring a jacket. The 131-foot Southern Empress was built in Mississippi in 1983, but came to Texas as fast as it could. There's something magical about viewing holiday lights on the water, making this one of our selections for Friday night.

6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday. Southern Empress Cruises, 7037 Kingston Cove Lane, Willis. For information, call 936-588-3000 or visit southernempress.com. $29.95.

When the animals at the Houston Zoo go down for their long winter's nap, the zookeepers turn on the sparkling LED lights – two million of them to be exact – for an after-hours winter wonderland. TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights still has all of the favorite traditions we've grown to love over the past five years: singing carolers, twinkling replicas of zoo animals and an Enchanted Forest, but this year they've added a 33-foot-tall, glittering Christmas tree. Visitors still get to view a few animals, including twinkling replicas of the zoo animals and everybody's favorite, Candy the interactive talking zebra, who is standing bright and tall for photo ops. Just like restless kids on Christmas Eve, some of the live animals won't go to sleep, so visitors can still check out Boga the Komodo Dragon in the Reptile & Amphibian House, the fruit bats at Carruth Natural Encounters or the piranhas in the Kipp Aquarium. If you don't catch this amazing light show on Friday night, don't worry, they reopen on Monday evening.

6 to 11 p.m. Friday. Continuing 6 to 11 p.m. December 26-31 and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; 6 to 10 p.m. January 2-5 and 9-12. Through January 15. 6200 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 713-533-6500 or visit houstonzoo.org/zoolights. Free to $19.95.

Hell hasn’t frozen over but, through the magic of Christmas, Typhoon Texas has. It’s been transformed into a 25-acre winter wonderland with miles of lights, synchronized light shows, train rides and even a workshop where little ones can make crafts and take photos with characters while elves build Santa’s toys. The wave pool has been transformed into a 4-D light show, and WinterFest even has outdoor ice skating. “We’ve transformed our picnic area that we have out by the pavilion, Jack Frost Field,” says Evan Barnett, general manager. He says visitors can bring their own skates or rent a pair for $5. “We’ve added some holiday highlights: hot chocolate, hot cider, apple dumplings, doughnuts and caramel apples,” says Barnett. “We’re really hoping to make this a tradition in west Houston. There’s so much activity for the young at heart to the very young, something for everyone.” This sounds like a great one-price-fits-all opportunity for west Houston, making it one of our recommendations for Friday or Saturday.

6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Continuing 6 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 6 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Christmas Day. Through December 31. 555 Katy Fort Bend Road, Katy. For information, call 832-426-7071 or visit typhoontexas.com/WinterFest. Free to $24.95.

A holiday lights display inside of a baseball field in Fort Bend County might sound like America, multiplied by a cornball factor of 5,000, but it’s not. (And even if it is, who cares?) The Sugar Land Holiday Lights at the four-year-old Constellation Field, home of the Sugar Land Skeeters minor-league baseball team, features 2.5 million lights that are arranged in insane displays and constructions. Not only are there holiday-themed characters (Santa and the elves), but there are also adornments (Christmas trees and oversized sculptures of lights that depict holiday lights; so meta) located in the concourse as well as all over the field and in the grandstands. Of course, the ginormous Lone Star State-shaped scoreboard that flexes its Texas-size muscles beyond center field is also outlined in blinking lights. In other words, go America and go Texas. Sugar Land Holiday Lights are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend, putting this on our short list for illuminating fun.

6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Continuing 6 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Through January 8. Constellation Field, 1 Stadium Drive, Sugar Land. For information, call 281-240-4487 or visit sugarlandholidaylights.com. $11 to $14.

For those growing up in Zigong, China, career aspirations tend to lean toward professional lantern artist or engineer. Now 90 artists from the famous “Lantern Town of the South Kingdom” have been flown in for our region’s second annual Magical Winter Lights. “Our festival will actually be 60 percent new lanterns,” says Chelsea Atkinson, public relations and event manager for organizer People Generation. This year’s lantern extravaganza includes the eco-minded Man and Nature, a whimsical forest in Magical Wonderland and an expanded Dinosaur Land with motorized dino rides. Don’t miss two nightly acrobatic shows, a carnival and a ramped-up food court. Thanks to last year’s wet winter weather, they’ve moved to terra firma at Gulf Greyhound Park. So no matter what the weather looks like, don't miss year two of this light extravaganza; they're open Friday, Saturday and Sunday this holiday weekend.

3 to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Continuing 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 3 to 11 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Through January 8. 1000 FM 2004, La Marque. For information, visit magicalwinterlights.com. $11 to $22.

Moody Gardens is getting cooler — down to nine degrees, to be specific. As part of its ICE LAND: A Caribbean Christmas attraction, the destination gives the phrase “frosty beverage” new meaning with its new Shivers Ice Bar. The fully functioning drinking spot is made completely from ice — the stools, the bottles and all the decorations. Be sure to bundle up for this below-freezing bar. Moody Gardens will provide the parkas, but recommends bringing a spare pair of mittens and thick socks. “It’s something amazing we can offer to the locals. It’s really cool that we can bring it here,” said Mariauna Hernandez, public relations coordinator. Bundled-up visitors can order from a festive holiday cocktail menu that highlights a local, handcrafted vodka. Then check out the rest of the holiday attractions: ICE LAND, Festival of Lights, Cirque Joyeux Noel, 3D films, Rudolph 4D, ice skating, the Arctic slide and train rides. We checked the calendar, and Moody Gardens remains open to the public Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Continuing daily through January 8. Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Boulevard, Galveston. For information, call 1-800-582-4673 or visit moodygardens.com. $10.95 to $26.95.

Sam Byrd and Steve Jansen contributed to this post.

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