Galveston Gallivanting Part II – Moody Gardens
Stay well, stay safe, stay home.
The events in the following post took place before the pandemic lock down.
Having done a lot of traveling across the United States, we never would have imagined seeing three giant pyramids off in the distance while driving around an island in Texas. Located on 242 acres, Moody Gardens is a unique non-profit destination which offers more than 10 separate attractions (some of which are seasonal).
Attracting more than 2 million visitors annually, Moody Gardens was the 1982 brainstorm of the Moody Foundation, a philanthropic organization launched by W. L. Moody, Jr. and his wife, Libbie Shearn Moody, in 1942. Moody was an American financier and entrepreneur from Galveston who founded a private bank, an insurance company, and one of the largest charitable foundations in the United States. It initially began with a horse barn, a riding arena with a hippotherapy riding program for people with head injuries. Today Moody Gardens is not only one of the premier educational/leisure facilities in the Southwest but it also provides horticultural therapy, education and employment for persons with a wide range of physical and emotional disabilities.
After seeing the pretty costly admission prices on-line, we had decided that we would skip this attraction. At the time, it was $69.95 per person for a one day pass or $89.95 for a two day pass (note since then the price is more – $75.95 for one day or $95.95 for two days. Visitors also have the option of purchasing tickets for individual attractions as well.
Even though the price includes admission for one into the Aquarium Pyramid, Rainforest Pyramid, MG 3D Theater, 4D Special FX Theater, Discovery Museum, Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, 20,000 Leagues: Interactive Adventure, Ropes Course, Palm Beach (seasonal), Bands on the Sand (Seasonal), Festival of Lights (seasonal) and ICE LAND (seasonal), it still seemed pretty expensive especially since the Paddlewheel wasn’t operating and we certainly weren’t interested in the Ropes Course or the 25% discount offered on Zip Line admission with day passes.
However, when we visited the local Visitor’s Center on Monday, we learned that Tuesday is Senior Day at Moody. Tickets would only cost $30 for each of us! Whew, that would be $60 versus $139.90, a savings of $79.90! What a deal! The staff at the center were quick to hint that although a senior pass was intended for visitors 65+ years old, id’s most likely wouldn’t be checked so those youngsters close to but not quite 65 (i.e. Rob) could take advantage of the senior pass as well.
So on Tuesday morning, off we went to enjoy what we hoped would be a fun adventure! Oh, no, we both echoed together as we pulled into the parking lot! It’s not just seniors day but it was kiddies day as well. At least five school buses were lined up near the entrance. But thankfully it didn’t impact us much. Sure, every now and then we’d have to wait for a group of children to leave so we could view a particular exhibit and sometimes we wished we could turn down the volume (nothing louder than a group of 20 – 30 excited kids) but it certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying everything.
Now the name, Moody Gardens, may conjure up visions of botanical gardens in your mind but trust me it wasn’t! Instead within the three pyramids is a Rainforest featuring a variety of tropical plans, animals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and rainforest animals, an Aquarium which holds many species of fish and other marine animals and a Discovery Museum which explores the world of science. But besides the pyramids this complex also offers 3D and 4D Theaters, a Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, an adventure named 20,000 Leagues: Interactive Adventure, a Ropes Course, a Zip Line, a Waterpark, a Hotel, a Spa and a Convention Center and walking trails. Whew, no wonder Moody Gardens is one of Galveston’s most popular attractions!
The Rainforest Pyramid
Opened in 1993, the multi-level Rainforest Pyramid glass structure reaches a height of 10 stories and allows visitors to tour all levels of the rainforest from the canopy to the rainforest floor and even underground. It is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals from around the world including Africa, Asia and the Americas.
After purchasing our two senior tickets (fyi, they didn’t ask for id’s), our journey began by walking a darkened pathway surrounded by the sounds of a rainforest where creatures may be hidden but there is a constant symphony of intriguing sounds – monkeys call out, birds sing, insects buzz, an ocelot growls, water drips and leaves fall.
As we made our way towards the Tree Top Trail on the top level, we stopped to watch giant sea otters playfully frolicking in a pond.
We didn’t realize it until later when we stopped at the gift shop, they are artists as well!
As we entered the rainforest, we gasped! Everywhere we looked there was beautiful lush tropical foliage. Scarlet ibis’ were perched on food dishes. Macaws and other exotic birds flew from tree branch to tree branch. Butterflies flitted about.
Rodriguez fruit bats hung upside down in netted cages (for a close look at these creepy critters, check out this video). White faced Saki monkeys quietly posed for pictures while curiously peering at us humans. It was hard to spot a Komodo Dragon lurking next to a tree branch. Signs told us that two toed sloths were mysteriously hiding somewhere in the trees but unfortunately we didn’t see any.
Slightly different scenario on the rainforest floor. The multi-hued green color of the lush foliage was interrupted by brightly colored bromeliads and orchids.
On exhibit in either glass enclosed exhibits or cages were very colorful and sometimes poisonous frogs, slithering snakes and lizards. Waterfalls and a small ponds full of colorful fish and turtles. Tucked inside a small glassed in cave area were several creepy looking vampire bats (video below)
and a very cute Egyptian Fruit Bat.
Oh, my, what an awesome experience this was! For a taste of what the rainforest was like, check out this YouTube video which was posted by another visitor.
3D & 4D Theaters
With tired feet, we were glad to have an opportunity to sit for a few minutes by seeing two movies in the theaters located in the Visitor Center. First up was Shark: A 4-D Experience, one of the featured films in the 4D Special FX Theater. With seat sensors, leg ticklers, wind, snow, scent and water splashes, all of our senses were engaged. Very enjoyable!
At the 3-D theater there is a giant 3D screen measuring 60 by 80 feet, the biggest in Texas. In 2014, the theater unveiled the world’s first state-of-the-art Giant Screen 6 Primary Laser Projector System allowing audiences to see films nearly three and a half times brighter than standard theaters, with vibrant colors and new 3D glasses technology. Although there were a number of films offered, the only one that worked out for us time wise was Great White Shark 3D. Although we would have preferred to see a film on a different subject than the first film, it was good but a bit of a letdown after seeing the shark 4-D film.
The Aquarium Pyramid
Could the 10 story Aquarium Pyramid be as awesome as the Rainforest we wondered?
With 1.5 million gallons of water, it is the largest aquarium in Texas. It opened in 1999 but in 2017, it underwent a $37 million multi-phased renovation which included the addition of a new jellyfish exhibit, the addition of tropical penguins, a Mangrove Lagoon touch tank that is home to stingrays (see video below) and sharks and a two story 30,000 gallon aquarium topped by a 23 foot scale model of an oil production platform.
Exhibits highlight five different marine sanctuaries from the Gulf of Mexico to the South Atlantic, South Pacific, North Pacific and Caribbean and provide visitors with a totally immersive experience. Humboldt penguins from the warm coastal areas of Chile and Peru reside in the new Humboldt Penguin Habitat while other penguins such as King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroni live in a temperature controlled climate such as the cold waters of the South Atlantic.
Other exhibits feature seals, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, thousands of fish and corals.
Not only do visitors get to enjoy seeing these marine creatures but through conservation messages they also gain a better understanding of the vital importance of the oceans.
One of our favorite features of the Aquarium was in the Caribbean exhibit. In a massive tunnel, we could stand and watch sharks, rays and myriad of colorful tropical fish species swim overhead and on either side. Very cool! It almost felt.like we were actually swimming with them.
Besides the tunnel, the Caribbean exhibit includes two other neat features: a 1 million gallon tank containing sharks, rays and tropical fish swimming around a replica of Jean Lafitte’s 19th century rum-runner, The Pride.
The second feature is the new Flower Garden Banks exhibit which replicates the reef system located 115 miles off the of banks within the Northwest Gulf of Mexico.
In April, 2019, the very critical Coral Rescue Lab (aka “Reefer Lab”) became a reality inside the aquarium. This lab was established as a result of an international effort to increase awareness and combat an unidentified coral tissue loss disease that is rapidly killing the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest coral system in the world.
When we arrived at the Mangrove Touch Tank, it was pretty busy, filled with kids so we wandered through some of the other exhibits, returning to the tank later. Much less busy this time!
To see what the aquarium was like, check out this YouTube video taken be another visitor.
In answer to the question at the beginning of this section – yes it was just as awesome as the rainforest. What we really liked about it was that all the exhibits were arranged by geographic region.
The Discovery Pyramid
Be aware that the exhibits in the pink hued Discovery Pyramid change frequently as it features traveling exhibits exploring the world of science and nature.
Interested in how the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone? If so, then a visit to the upper level to visit Skeletown is a must do. In the human skeletal system there are 206 bones that compile the human skeletal system and Skeletown explores them all. Check out this YouTube video from a local news station.
On the first floor is their newest interactive attraction – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: An Interactive Adventure which takes guests through all the stages of a submarine voyage, complete with unusual sea life. Visiting this attraction is included in One Day or Two Day Value Pass, otherwise a separate admission will be charged. Unfortunately, the timing of the show didn’t work out for us so we can’t offer any feedback.
To be honest, this pyramid was relatively disappointing, compared to the Aquarium and the Rainforest. Maybe because it seemed more geared towards kids instead of adults. Good thing it was included in our one day pass!
Even though we were pretty tired (we arrived a little after 10:00 a.m. and it was after 4:00 p.m.) and the fog was beginning to roll in, we spent a few minutes walking along the pathway behind the pyramids. Since admission is not required to walk the grounds, we returned later in the week to enjoy a walk in sunnier weather!
Exhausting day but so worth it especially at the senior discounted price. But we weren’t done with our gallivanting in Galveston yet – we had one more museum that was on our list of attractions to see. Stay tuned to learn what we did next!
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