Expecting out-of-town guests for the Thanksgiving holiday? Eating turkey and watching football will take up only so much time. After that, there's that awkward sitting around, staring at each other phase. Avoid those l-o-n-g moments of silent boredom with a little planning. We've got some suggestions for family-friendly activities that are affordable and sure to impress out-of-towners. Here's our list:
Space Center Houston, past winner of Best Tourist Attraction in our Best of Houston awards, is a sure bet. It's a big complex with lots of NASA history on display. Expect space capsules, mission artifacts and some replicas. You can test an ejector seat, slip on astronaut gloves and perform some simple tasks (ah, nearly impossible), see training facilities, take a behind-the-scenes tours, take a turn at a mission control mock-up and lots more.
Best audience: Tweens, seniors and technology or history geeks. Most of the exhibits are interactive so along with lots to see, there's plenty to do and touch which is perfect for kids. Folks over 50 years old - that is people old enough to remember the actual moon landing and space missions - are sure to find the artifacts fascinating (moon rocks, yo!).
Insider tips: Buy your tickets online and skip the long lines at the box office. Give yourself plenty of travel time. It's a holiday weekend so you'd expect less traffic but that's not always the case.
Visit Space Center Houston 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Open Thanksgiving Day. 1601 NASA Parkway. For information, call 281-244-2100 or visit spacecenter.org. $19.95 (kids) to $31 (adults).
Feel like doing a full day, jamming in as many attractions and activities as possible? Moody Gardens has you covered. Feel like spending just a couple of hours doing something low key? Moody Gardens has you covered, too.
Moody Gardens has several holiday attractions available on Thanksgiving Day including ICE LAND (sculptures and structures made from two million pounds of ice), the Festival of Lights (one million lights illuminating 100 holiday displays over a mile-long outdoor route), a 4D screening of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (3D projection with moving seats, in-theater wind, water, smell and snow effects) and an ice skating rink.
Of course, that's in addition to the Gardens' usual attractions - the Aquarium Pyramid (1.5 million gallons teeming with sharks, seals, penguins, stingrays and more creatures from the world's oceans), the Discovery Pyramid (SpongeBog SubPants interactive experience), the Discovery Museum (Dinosaurs in Motion with life-size interactive sculptures), the Rain Forest Pyramid (free-roaming monkey, macaws and other jungle animals), a 3D theater (screening Finding Dory) and the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat (an hour long cruise on a replica of an 1800s paddlewheel boat).
Want to see and do everything? (We do!) Opt for the one- or two-day holiday pass. You get admission to ICE LAND, the Festivals of Lights, the Aquarium Pyramid, Rainforest Pyramid, 3D and 4D Theaters, Discovery Pyramid and Museum and the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat. ($56.95 to $76.95 if purchased online; $59.95 to $79.95 at the gate)
You can add ice skate rental ($7; admission to the rink is included with Festival of Lights admission tickets), an Arctic Slide (inner-tube rides down a Texas-sized hill; $7 for one ride to $25 for unlimited rides) and a train ride through Festival of Lights ($5 for one ride to $12 for three rides).
Want a little less at budget prices? Try the Holiday Value Pass with ICE LAND, Festival of Lights and your choice of one other attraction ($29.95 to $34.95). Still too much excitement for you? Enjoy the Festivals of Light ($10.95).
See Moody Gardens Enchants With Eight Holiday Attractions for more info on the Moody Gardens holiday offerings through early January.
Moody Gardens has the added advantage of offering two different Thanksgiving Day buffets. The Moody Gardens Hotel menu includes roasted turkey, prime rib, ham, redfish, dozens of sides, salads and starters along with lots of freshly baked pies and cakes for ($27 for kids to $55 for adults). The Garden Restaurant, in the Moody Gardens complex, has soup, starters, salads, entrees, sides and deserts for a more budget-friendly ($15.95 for kids to $35.95 for adults). The Garden Restaurant also offers a couple of just-for-kids alternatives (mac 'n cheese, chicken tenders and fries).
Not planning to visit on Thanksgiving Day? Try the Holiday of Lights buffet with soups, starters, salads and entrees including pork roast, cod and manicotta along with sides and deserts for $8.95 (kids) to $16.95 (adults).
Best audience: Multi-generational family groups.
Insider tips: Plan your visit and take advantage of online ticket discounts (read the fine print about no refunds, exchanges or refunds on certain tickets).
Check the schedule and location for each attraction. With a little planning, you can save yourself from any unnecessary walking back and forth across the complex. If you're going to spend the whole day at the center, be sure to alternate between physical activities (ice skating or touring the pyramids and exhibits) with more sedate choices (watching movies or riding on the paddleboat). And plan to be at the complex after dark; you can't fully appreciate the Festival of Lights before sundown.
Moody Gardens is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (individual attraction times may vary). Open Thanksgiving Day. One Hope Boulevard, Galveston Island. For information, call 800-582-4673 or visit moodygardens.com. Prices vary per attraction.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Gary Tinterow has certainly upped the ante with the latest blockbuster show "Degas: A New Vision."
In 1988, Tinterow and Henri Loyrette, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, curated "Degas," a landmark survey of work of Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas. At the time, the exhibit revived interest in the French artist.
Tinterow and Loyrette joined forces again for the brilliant "Degas: A New Vision." Houston is the only U.S. stop for the show which gives us "nowhere else in the country" bragging rights making it perfect for impressing out-of-town guests.
See our review of "Degas: A New Vision," The Degas Exhibit at the MFAH Is Powerful Indeed by Randy Tibbits.
Chances are you've seen Degas' paintings of ballet dancers. And they are certainly impressive to see in person but gosh, "A New Vision" shows how much more Degas has to offer. The breadth of the show is breathtaking. And happily, you don't have to be a snobby art aficionado to appreciate the exhibit.
Best Audience: Adults
Insider tips: Most young kids and teens enjoy hands-on, interactive exhibits and activities. You'll find that sort of exhibit from time to time at the MFAH, but "Degas: A New Vision" isn't one of them. If you've got guests who can't keep their hands to themselves or are likely to push their nose up against glass display cases, keep them away from "Degas: A New Vision."
See "Degas: A New Vision" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Closed Thanksgiving Day. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit mfah.org. $18 to $23. Tickets include admission to "Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei" and permanent museum collections.
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The 67th Annual H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade features a double dose of Simones with gymnast and Olympic Gold medalist Simone Biles and swimmer and Olympic Gold medalist Simone Manuel as co- grand marshals. Marching bands, decorated floats, balloon characters, local politicos and celebs, dance troupes and more fill downtown streets, with Santa Claus making his first official appearance of the holiday season.
Best audience: Multi-generational family groups.
Insider tips: Make it easy on yourself and pick out a couple of convenient parking lots before you head downtown (check the route map for parking lot and METRO stops info). You'll want to have a backup in case your first choice is full (hey, it happens). There's plenty of space along the parade route but for prime, first row seats, you'll want to get there early. Lots of folks sit on the curb, but bring along some lawn chairs for more comfortable seating (it's a long parade, and you might not want to stand up the entire time).
The 67th Annual H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 9 a.m. on November 24. The parade route starts at Lamar and Smith (by the Houston Public Library's Julia Ideson Building), continues along Smith and Milam between Walker and Pease. For information, visit www.houstontx.gov/thanksgivingparade. Free.