On telling polite inquirers that we were taking the kids to Houston for Thanksgiving, the reaction was consistently ‘Why?’
The top three factors in our decision were, in no particular order:
- I read something about a boardwalk resort the kids might like;
- It’s only a few hours on a plane;
- We don’t have any better ideas.
Scepticism remained, but the flights and Holiday Inn were already booked.
Driving through Houston from the airport, I realise how much I’ve been needing a change of scene. If Samuel Johnson had lived where we live now, he probably would have said ‘When a man is tired of Boca Raton, he is tired of palm trees’, and he would have been spot on (though possibly less revered today). Texas boasts a wider variety of trees, which is almost surprising given how much of this is around:
The shameless oil refineries along the highways spew out pollutants day and night, but the gleaming steel and white structures are arresting in the sunshine, and can be just as striking when artificially lit.
Our first full day in Houston is Thanksgiving, and we’re up early for a good spot to see the Holiday Parade. The forecast has the day starting at around 60°F, building to 70°F by lunchtime; a refreshing change from the oppressive heat and humidity of Florida, we think. In fact we’ve underestimated just how much we’ve acclimatised in six months, and wish we’d brought warmer clothes. Fortunately, the exuberantly patriotic procession of marching bands, cheerleaders, clowns, singers, dancers, classic cars, firetrucks, politicians, dignitaries, mounted police, giant inflatables, Elvis impersonators, Santas and floats glorifying both corporate sponsors and local charities alike is enough to distract us from the freezing cold.
Thanksgiving lunch follows at Spindletop, a revolving rooftop restaurant. The food is decent rather than spectacular, but with Stanley half price and Carla free for the same set menu as us, it’s good value. More importantly, a continually changing panorama of skyscrapers enables Jenni and I to enjoy a rare lunchtime bottle of wine relatively unharrassed.
We don’t engage in the common American practice of joining hands and going around the table declaring what we’re thankful for because…well, because we’re British. Stanley brought home his answer in writing from school last week. He’d put something about health and family, but I could tell that he’d had input because you could make out an erased ‘elephants’ underneath.
I still, however, think that this is an appropriate time to try and convey to Stanley just how fortunate he is by accident of birth, in wealth terms at least. After a hasty and probably deeply-flawed mental calculation (I don’t even have a back-of-an-envelope to hand) I explain that if there were only a million children in the world, hundreds of thousands of them would be without sufficient food or clothes, or in some other kind of imminent danger. In fact, I reckon he would be among the luckiest five, and so would most kids he’d ever met. Stanley’s air-punch and accompanying ‘yessssss’ isn’t the response I had in mind, but seems entirely appropriate when I stop and think about it.
We go to the Space Center in the afternoon, which has the latest technology in hands-on, space-related exhibits.
While it’s all very impressive, and there’s something for everyone, it is quite expensive to get in and I think you’d need to spend a whole day there (and with older children) to get full value from it.
Without doubt, the highlight of the whole four days (for the kids at least) is our trip to The Children’s Museum, which has 80,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor ‘interactive learning experiences’ for families. There’s nothing here that you might not find in many similar facilities around the world, but it’s all here and it all works. It’s by far the best execution of this kind of ‘edutainment’ I’ve ever seen. We arrive when it opens at 10 and have to make a mad dash around the gift shop when it shuts at 6, leaving entire sections unexplored.
Imagine, if you will, eight hours of this sort of thing:
As an added bonus, the gift shop stocks Yes & Know Invisible Ink books, which I remember from the 1970s. They haven’t changed much!
Oh, and what brought us here in the first place, Kemah Boardwalk, was also all kinds of fun. Overall, I’d say Houston, Texas is a great place to take the kids!