Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving trip

Yesterday we returned from our Thanksgiving trip. I will stress the word "trip", not "vacation" for sure (see this). (Just keeping it real!) We discovered last year that the days leading up to Thanksgiving are generally not crowded at tourist attractions, and since the kids have the entire week off school and we have hotel points and can stay for free, why not try seeing more of Texas?

We left on Tuesday morning and headed to the Houston area. We secured a reservation at a Marriott Springhill Suites with Brian's loyalty points. We like this chain of hotels because the regular rooms have enough bed space for 6 people (2 Queen beds and a sofa bed).

Here is my son showcasing the beds and the sofa/sitting areas:

It took us 6 hours to drive to our hotel (instead of 4) due to snow, heavy rain and traffic. So by the time we arrived, the kids were ready to swim! We got in our swimsuits. We went downstairs looking for the pool, only to find that this particular hotel was one of the few with an outdoor pool instead of an indoor pool, and it wasn't heated. And it was 30-something degrees outside. So...after some crying and whining (the kids, not me...) we returned upstairs.

That evening, we headed over to a friend's house for dinner. The adults got to chat while the kids played, and it was a nice evening.

At the hotel that night, we were all up half the night. The kids have trouble sharing beds. All of us except one switched beds during the night. When we woke up the next morning, we were all still exhausted and a little grumpy.

But we had plans on Wednesday to go to Galveston. We had another reservation at a Springhill Suites on points in Galveston, and this was the view from our balcony. (And yes, our drive to Galveston was way longer than it should have been due to traffic and multiple bathroom stops).

First we went to Moody Gardens.   Moody Gardens offers free admission to 1 of its attractions for students with A/B report cards (within 30 days of issuance). Moody Gardens has 3 pyramids (aquarium, rainforest and discovery museum) as well as 3-D and 4-D movies and a paddle wheel boat ride. After reading reviews online of all of the attractions, we decided to go to the aquarium pyramid. Since the boys got in free with their report cards, and kids under 4 are also free, we just had to pay for Brian and me.

The aquarium pyramid

The aquarium had a passport book for all of the sharks, and the kids stamped their books at various stations.

There was a nice seal exhibit, and the seals were very active and came right up to the window.

These stingrays weren't shy.

The aquarium also had a penguin exhibit that was visible on multiple levels.

There were many smaller tanks full of other fish, sea turtles and sea horses.

There was one tank where you could touch starfish and other creatures.

And of course, lots of sharks!

The aquarium only took around 90 minutes or less to get through. It probably wasn't the best aquarium we've visited since it was less interactive than others, but it was fun nonetheless.

After Moody Gardens, we went to Jimmy's on the Pier. This is a restaurant on the Galveston fishing pier that gets good reviews.

There is no heating or air conditioning inside, so they had heat lamps in the corners. Although it looks sunny, the temperature was only in the high 40s.

The fried pickles are delicious.

After lunch, we climbed down the stairs of the seawall. There were large rocks, and I was afraid one of the kids would fall in. Actually, just walking along the seawall made me very nervous with the kids. The cement sea wall is 17 feet high and a steep drop to the hard rocks below.

Next, we drove to the Galveston Ferry. I learned about this ferry by reading attraction reviews on It is ranked #3 out of 49 attractions in Galveston, and it is totally free. It's a car ferry that goes from Galveston to Port Bolivar. It doesn't look very big, but it holds a lot of cars (4 lanes).

We decided to park the car in the lot and walk on to the ferry since I read you never have to wait for a ferry that way. As we walked on the ferry, the horn sounded, which scared the heck out of all of us. Hence this picture of the kids covering their ears, for fear of another horn.

There was an indoor area on the top floor, with outdoor lookouts as well.

On the trip back, we decided to join other families in feeding the seagulls off the back of the ferry.

The family next to us had Cheetos, which the birds would eat out of their hands. They let us borrow some of their Cheetos.

Joshua and I were the only ones brave enough to try holding out the Cheetos for the birds.

We also saw many dolphins following the ferry. Round-trip took less than an hour. It was a great way to see the water for free. If it would have been warmer, we might have gone on multiple ferry rides.

At this point, the kids were ready to go back to our hotel to swim. This hotel did indeed have an indoor pool and hot tub. Except when we got there, it was closed due to painting. So we went to our room before dinner.

And that's when Alyssa ran into a dresser drawer and got a deep, gushing cut on her face near her eye. So we loaded everyone up for a trip to the nearest urgent care center for stitches. I will not go into details, but this was definitely a low point of our trip.

Joshua was entertained by the fish tank in the waiting room.

After we got out of there, we were all hungry for dinner. We had researched a place for dinner with good reviews, but when we arrived, it was closed for the holidays. So onto Plan B, which was dinner at Fisherman's Wharf restaurant. We had eaten lunch there before our Disney cruise last February. We just wanted to make it through dinner at this point, because we were all tired and Alyssa was not happy.

We drove to Victoria the next morning (Thanksgiving with family). Lots of whining and stopping.

Our drive back to Dallas on Saturday took almost 7 hours with 7 stops. Yes, 7. We were all so happy to get out of that car.

I think that once the pain of this trip subsides, we will remember the good times we had. Since our lodging was free, and we only had to pay for 2 admissions into Moody Gardens, the trip was fairly economical. While the highways were busy, the tourist attractions were not crowded. I think we enjoyed San Antonio (last year's Thanksgiving trip) better than Houston/Galveston. But we are all glad to be back home for now.