By Sara G. Stephens
As Houston families drift into the last days of summer, they scramble to make the most of their time before school starts. Parents are eager to guide their kids back into a more “normal” and structured lifestyle, with regular bedtime schedules and perhaps some last minute attempts to brush up on academic basics from the previous year or check some books off kids’ summer reading lists.
But parents must understand that the opposite option of staying home, bound to the stress of academic cramming, strips the summer of one last final hurrah. And most parents can recall from their youth that loathsome feeling of preparing for the first day of class having quit the summer “cold turkey.”
The solution to the August activity dilemma is simple, affordable, and accessible: a Galveston “edu-vacation” that crossbreeds summer fun with educational accomplishment.
GALVESTON RAILROAD MUSEUM
The Galveston Railroad Museum is a complex of historic facilities and unique attractions.
Towering at the head of the Strand, the vast Railroad Museum boasts one of the largest restored railroad collections in the southwest and one of the five largest in the country, with numerous railroad memorabilia and exhibits, including more than 40 pieces of locomotives and rolling stock. As southeast Texas’ most popular railroad museum, there is something here for everyone!
Throughout the year, experience lavishly restored trains, engaging exhibits, and unique special events. Most Saturdays, the museum offers rides aboard the “Harborside Express” train between 11am and 2pm, boarding every 20 minutes.
NOAA SEA TURTLE TOUR
The NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC Galveston Laboratory has many missions, one of which is the conservation of endangered sea turtles and other marine species. The laboratory is situated on the site of Historic Fort Crockett, one block from the Gulf of Mexico on Galveston Island, Texas, and is the only federal fisheries laboratory west of the Mississippi River on the gulf. Visitors to Galveston can schedule free tours of the laboratory sea turtles by calling 409-766-3500.
TALL SHIP ELISSA
Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa. Explore the decks of this floating National Historic Landmark, which has also been designated one of America’s Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Walk Elissa’s decks and imagine the days when daring sailors challenged the world’s oceans. In the adjacent museum and theater, witness the story of Elissa’s dramatic rescue from the scrapyard and her meticulous restoration. Located in the historic port of Galveston, the Texas Seaport Museum also tells the story of a rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration. Look for ancestors with a one-of-a-kind computer database containing the names of more than 133,000 immigrants who entered the United States through Galveston, “The Ellis Island of the West.” Join the Museum’s staff and volunteers as they bring the past to life through special exhibits and educational programs. Admission is as follows: adults age 19+ $12; youth age 6-18 $9; children age 5 & under free; GHF members, free. Open daily 10am – 5pm (last ticket is sold at 4:30pm).
LONE STAR FLIGHT MUSEUM
The Lone Star Flight Museum is home to one of the finest collections of restored aircraft and aviation exhibits in the nation. Over 40 restored aircraft are displayed and most are in working condition. The collection includes WWII fighters, bombers, liaison trainers, and executive planes. The museum is dedicated to the men and women who developed aviation to the science it is today and to the memory and spirit of those who flew in the defense of our country and freedom throughout the world. Fly-in visits are encouraged. Admission: adults over 18 $8; seniors age 65+ $5; students age 5-17 $5; children under 5 free.
OFFSHORE ENERGY CENTER’S OCEAN STAR OFFSHORE DRILLING RIG MUSEUM
Visitors to the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum board the retired jackup drilling rig and view a video about the offshore industry. The museum features three floors of models and interactive displays illustrating the story of offshore oil and gas, from seismic technology to exploration and production. Scale models of production platforms, actual drill bits and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), as well as videos and exhibits, explain drilling, geology, seismic, well servicing and production. Following a leisurely tour inside the museum, visitors can take the skywalk out onto the drill floor of the rig or visit the exhibits on the pipe deck from the first floor of the museum.
You can’t miss the stunning pyramids of Moody Gardens as you drive into Galveston. Each structure houses wondrous natural environments and species for kids of all ages to explore.
The Aquarium Pyramid is approximately 12 stories high. The massive pools that are contained in this pyramid contain approximately 10,000 marine animals from fish, sharks, seals and penguins, representing different regions of the sea: North Pacific, South Pacific, South Atlantic and Caribbean.
The Rainforest Pyramid is a clear structure measuring 10 stories high. After Hurricane Ike, a $25 million enhancement project brought nature closer to visitors. The multi-level rainforests feature giant Amazon river otters, saki monkeys, ocelots, and a wide range of other animals, birds, and reptiles, as well as more than 1,000 species of exotic plants. The rainforests of Asia, Africa, and the Americas are featured through the popular bat caves, crashing waterfalls, and Mayan Ruins. The warm, humid interior simulates the climate of rainforests on warm days.
The Discovery Pyramid features traveling exhibits and the ride film (motion simulator). The huge deep pink-colored pyramid is currently featuring the JAM: Remastered exhibit. This exhibit highlights the science and math behind sound waves, while allowing visitors to play with instruments and sing karaoke.