Road Trip: Space Center Houston

Our Spring Break Road Trip is already seeming like a distant memory, but I’m so glad we did it. It was the first time it was just my son and I on a trip, so I was a little nervous. We managed to pack more in four days than might have been necessary (thanks to my purchase of CityPasses for us both, since I always love a deal!), but it gave us a great chance to experience a few things which Houston has to offer, and to give us a reason to head back again.

For those of you looking for a quick road trip this spring, though, you could actually head to Houston for a day trip, or make it more relaxed and drive there for a weekend. Whatever way you do it, Houston is a fun place to visit. When I was trying to plan our trip, I consulted FOLM (Friend of LiveMom) and travel blogger Rebecca from R We There Yet Mom? and Round the Rock, and as usual, she was a great resource for family-friendly out of town fun.

Space Center outside
The entrance to the Space Center Houston

Day Two of our Spring Break adventure to Houston started at 5:30am with my son waking me up at our hotel with the insistent, “I’m hungry, mom!” Well, since we had “sprung forward” that morning, my tired body knew full well it was really as though it was 4:30am. One downside of solo parenting…yawn. After I dragged myself out of bed, since all our snacks were in our car, we headed downstairs to the area where breakfast is available. It was 5:55am (perhaps this is a good time to mention that I’m not a morning person?) and breakfast was still being set up but the kind host let us go ahead and sit down. Of course, for kids, breakfast buffets are totally awesome, and the Omni’s is very impressive — eggs, bacon, Greek yogurt (as a Greek American, that means the Fage brand), fruit, Eggs Benedict, omelettes made to order (we were too early for that, however), oatmeal and all manner of pastries, among other things. After having our fill (and plenty of coffee for me), we went to get ready for the 45 minute drive to the Johnson Space Center.

I was glad we chose a Sunday, so we had no traffic to contend with, even though I realized this attraction is pretty much busy year round. We did end up arriving pretty much when the museum opened, which was the plan. As at the Children’s Museum of Houston the day before, we did need to pay for parking. At the Space Center, the parking fee is $6. I had my Houston CityPASS admission tickets ready, which allowed us to save on the combined admission at the Space Center Houston, the Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural Science and the Zoo.

We headed straight to the tram tours, which last about an hour and a half, as I had read that lines grow as the day goes on. We had three choices: the Red, Blue and White Tours. All the tours take you to see Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park, but the Red Tour also goes to the Astronaut Training Facility, the Blue Tour takes you to see Historic Mission Control and the White Tour heads to the SAIL Facility. Frankly, I hadn’t done much research, so I asked the employee which tour she recommended for an 8-year-old and she recommended the Red Tour so off we went (to stand in line briefly before we boarded). It was a little drizzly, so if that’s the case when you visit, you should definitely take a rain jacket since you are somewhat exposed to the elements on the tram. Oh, and what I had read was correct: there aren’t too many restrooms at the Space Center, so you might want to take the opportunity to use the restroom before heading out for your tram tour (the tram tour line is right next to the restrooms).

Astronaut Training Facility
Astronaut Training Facility

This was one of those Spring Breaks which got pretty chilly, and unfortunately, this was probably the coldest day of the trip and we weren’t adequately dressed. The cold, mixed in with a chilly wind, made the tram ride a little miserable. I can imagine it could be miserable in a different way during the heat of summer. The campus is quite large, so it does take some time to go between all of the buildings, and meanwhile you listen to a recording about the history of the Space Center and the space program. I had read that 8 was about the youngest age to really appreciate the tram ride, and I would agree. Along with the fact that he was cold, my son tuned out pretty quickly for the recorded tour guide, except during our stops when he was able to get out and experience the exhibits himself.

Saturn V and Rocket Park
Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park

We welcomed the opportunity to escape the colder temperatures to head into the Astronaut Training Facility. It was very cool to see all the different ways astronauts prepare to head into space. With the end of the space shuttle program, I wasn’t really sure what NASA was up to, but I got a much better idea of the collaborations we have with other countries and the work we are doing on the International Space Station after the tour. We also stopped to see the Saturn V rocket, which was pretty amazing. There were also a few rockets outside and plenty of photo opps.

Kids Space Place - probably my son's favorite part of the Space Center
Kids Space Place – probably my son’s favorite part of the Space Center

Once we returned back to the main building, we headed indoors to the Kids Play Space & Martian Matrix, which my son had eyed on the way in. He made a beeline to a building area where there were illustrations of the International Space Center to copy using interlocking plastic parts, but, naturally, my kid decided to make his own rover instead. From there he did a flight simulator and guided a Martian Rover model around a course and explored the other exhibits. Downstairs, he became enthralled by Angry Birds Space app-based puzzles. We also enjoyed finding out how much we would weigh on different planets.

Starship Gallery Museum
Starship Gallery Museum

From the Play Space, we headed to the Starship Gallery Museum, which showcases some of the equipment astronauts use in space, replicas of the inside of different space crafts, real space food from prior missions and a moon rock. The tour begins with a short video about the history of the space program which includes a poignant mention of the lives lost during the different expeditions. I hadn’t thought about whether this mention (explosion? deaths?) would trigger questions or worries in my son, but luckily I never heard anything else about it.
AdvertisementWe then took a lunch break. I had read to head elsewhere for food, but I decided to go for convenience and to save time to stay at the Space Center for our meal (see: solo parenting). I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the stations offers a vegan tabbouleh wrap, but it wasn’t that great. The eating area is basically a food court with traditional kid fare. Edible, but nothing special.

Living in Space presentation
Living in Space presentation

After lunch, we headed to the half-hour long Living in Space presentation. A staffer inside of a mock spacecraft guides you through what a day in the life of an astronaut is like (and answers that question running through your head about how using the restroom works). A child is chosen from the audience, so if your kid is into this kind of thing, you’ll probably want to sit up front. The seating is on metal bleachers and it’s a good chance to rest in between all the walking. We enjoyed it.

Stellar Science Presentation
Stellar Science Presentation

From that presentation, we went right over to the Stellar Science Show. Truth be told, on the way over we purchased some astronaut ice cream that we could munch on during the show. My kid liked that the half-hour show was interactive. The scientist did some fun stuff with liquid nitrogen and used different experiments to demonstrate scientific principles.

Then, we headed to Blast Off, which helps you experience the sights and sounds of lift-off, and then provides you with an opportunity to hear about the latest developments in the NASA Space Program. I had read that the blast off part was pretty loud, but I guess I underestimated the impact on my sound-sensitive kid. Even with all of our hands clapped tightly around his ears, he was in tears by the time that brief portion was over (bad parenting moment). The briefing portion afterwards was not that exciting for kids, but interesting for us adults.

Looking down on the Space Center Plaza soon after opening. Exhibits rotate in this space, but lots of it is hands on.
Looking down on the Space Center Plaza soon after opening. Exhibits rotate in this space, but lots of it is hands on.

When we emerged from Blast Off, it was mid-afternoon and the Space Center had gotten much more crowded. We toured through a few exhibits on the floor, and there were a few things we just didn’t have the energy to see. That said, we got to our car at 4pm and so it was a pretty long day for us!

All in all, I was glad I hadn’t taken my son to the Space Center when he was younger. He had a great time, but I think he would get even more out of the experience when he’s a bit older. Some of the exhibits were still a little text-heavy for him to fully appreciate, and he has never really shown much of an interest in astronauts, even though he likes to talk about planets. If we had to choose between the Children’s Museum and the Space Center (the two attractions we had visited thus far), I think we both enjoyed the Children’s Museum more. We will definitely revisit the Space Center when my son’s a little older and the weather is nicer, since I think both would make for a better all-around experience.

The Omni Houston has a nice outside area with two pools (one heated) and a pond with a pair of black swans.
The Omni Houston has a nice outside area with two pools (one heated) and a pond with a pair of black swans.

We headed back to the Omni, and by the time we arrived, the clouds had lifted. Since the clock read 5pm but with the time change we felt as though it was 4pm, we took the opportunity to check out the pools and the pond with the black swans. It’s a nice outdoor area, and I’m sure we would have taken better advantage of it were the temperature a bit warmer. After dinner, we got ready for our next adventure which would take place the following day: the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Needless to say, neither of us had much trouble sleeping that night.

Disclosure: The Omni provided my son and I with a reduced rate to stay at their Houston Galleria Hotel. LiveMom will not receive compensation for any mention of our stay and any opinions expressed about our road trip are my own.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]

About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

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