Houston, we do not have a problem.
Everyone knows Texas is big, but when it comes to taking kids to America’s fourth largest city, it turns out it’s just a small world after all.
By Sarah Ivens
My two-year-old daughter wants to be a Lady Astronaut. I think she likes the idea of floating amongst glittering stars, or maybe it’s just that she fancies zooming far away from her older brother and his constant teasing. Either way, when we moved to Austin, Texas recently, we knew a trip to the Space Center at Houston would be our first family excursion.
Well when I say ‘we’, I mean my husband obviously. Visiting a city I knew little about apart from that it is very, very hot and sky-scrapery to spend eight hours looking at geeky space stuff surrounded by NASA nerds would not be my first choice of weekend getaway. But I’m so glad my moaning was ignored. Houston surprised – in a hip, healthy way.
For a start, traveling with offspring can be exhausting – and not much of a vacation, as you worry about the impact their having on other guests, who you fear are judging your parenting skills with a smug wrath, but my kids were too bedazzled to be bored and therefore behaved well. Secondly, I imagined our accommodation choices would be limited to dull, grey motels out near mission control, or dull, grey box hotels made for international oilmen to rest their Stetson-wearing, weary heads. The Four Seasons Houston, in the heart of the shockingly pretty downtown district, was neither – and may be one of the most kid-friendly city hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
Miniature guests are greeted to their choice of soft toy at check-in, before making their way to the room and receiving surely the cutest tray ever delivered by room service: a carton of milk, a chocolate cowboy hat and a personalized rainbow-sprinkle cookie in the shape of Texas. My two sugar fiends enjoyed these delights on the beanbags set up for them at a small table, decorated with welcome signs with their names on.
Back down at reception, we are told of all the child-happy activities offered every weekend: A kid’s cooking class in the hotel’s kitchen, or the chance to don a chef’s hat at the dinner table in Quattro, the hotel’s mighty fine Italian restaurant, and make a Tiramisu from scratch for the family to enjoy. Every Saturday night, family friendly movies are shown on the pool deck, complete with fresh-popped popcorn and a Willy Wonka-style buffet, and this sugar can be burnt off with hula hoop classes, taught by one of the gym’s fitness experts. We opted to head for a swim, where non-judgmental waiters brought all the kids complimentary Shirley Temples as they played Corn Hole in the sun. I swear, even J.R. Ewing would have looked like a good parent if he’d stayed here.
Parents at the pool suggested the best places for newbies to explore. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is the place for fledgling dinosaur hunters and archeologists; while the Downtown Aquarium is an unforgettable place to take the kids for lunch, seated as you are in the middle of a 150,000 gallon aquarium filled with everything your Finding Dory fiend will love. The Children’s Museum of Houston is rated the best in the U.S. by Parents magazine and has something mind-blowing for all ages.
But with limited time to explore, we knew we had to soar to the Space Center – so we lifted off our behinds from the pool loungers and got going. Filled with artifacts, exhibits and information, this really is an out of this world museum. Not only do you get to see where real space scientists work every day, you get to touch genuine moon rock, board a space shuttle and visit the famous mission control room from the Apollo missions. It was surprisingly moving and jaw-dropping, learning about the planets around us and the drive that pushes humankind onward into discovery. It is truly worth of at least four hours of anyone’s time. My two enjoyed their day there as much as they enjoyed their day at Disneyland. Yes, it is that engaging for children.
My little lady still wants to be a space cadet, even after seeing what astronauts have to eat, and my son keeps saying he wants to move to Houston (although I think he actually just wants to move into a Four Seasons suite), and I can’t wait to go back. The city was the loveliest shock, much more than oil and cowboys and traffic on sweltering days. Houston, we really do not have a problem with you.