Hous­ton, we don’t have a prob­lem

Fa­ther-and-daugh­ter make the most of a lay­over in Hous­ton by hit­ting the city’s big­gest tourist at­trac­tions in a whirl­wind

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - DESTINATIONS - SPE­CIAL TO TC ME­DIA

Plan and at­tack. With only six-and-a-half hours in Hous­ton, that’s the strat­egy my 13-year-old daugh­ter, Grace, and I em­brace to ex­pe­ri­ence Texas’ big­gest me­trop­o­lis.

Rather than eat, drink, shop, read and be bored at Ge­orge Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port on our long lay­over we de­cided to make the most of the day.

So, we hired a car and hit Hous­ton like a whirl­wind, vis­it­ing the city’s big­gest tourist at­trac­tions — NASA John­son Space Cen­tre, Hous­ton Zoo and Hous­ton Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral Science. First, the zoo. It’s where Ha­sai likes his salad sim­ple.

Ro­maine let­tuce leaves straight up, no dress­ing, no crou­tons, no de­li­cious Parme­san cheese shav­ings.

And Grace loves hand-feed­ing Ha­sai, the el­e­gantly tall and thin male gi­raffe, his salad.

Gi­raffe feed­ing is the most sought-af­ter ex­pe­ri­ence at the zoo.

Twice-a-day a kiosk in the African For­est sec­tion of the zoo opens and sells three pieces of ro­maine to ex­cited kids (and adults) for $5.

Of course, to come face-to­face with th­ese gen­tle gi­ants, ro­maine-wield­ing bud­ding zo­ol­o­gists have to climb a flight of stairs to a plat­form where gi­raffes pop their heads over the rail­ing for a snack.

Ha­sai is hun­gry and Grace feeds him the let­tuce so quickly I hardly have time to snap a photo.

We will also catch the ele­phants bathing, li­ons loung­ing, go­ril­las hang­ing out and tigers perched atop rock out­crop­pings.

Texas and Hous­ton have branded them­selves so well with ‘Don’t Mess with Texas,’ ‘Ev­ery­thing’s Big­ger in Texas,’ and ‘Hous­ton, We have Lift Off ’ catch phrases.

From the zoo we walked across Her­mann Park to the Hous­ton Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral Science to ogle the full-size di­nosaur skele­tons, the mummy of Neskhons in the Egyp­tian Hall and price­less Faberge eggs in the spe­cial Rus­sian ex­hibit.

The NASA John­son Space Cen­tre, Hous­ton’s big­gest tourist at­trac­tion, is a half-hour drive south of down­town, so to take it in dur­ing a lay­over you really have to race through the place.

This is where Amer­i­can as­tro­nauts are trained and Mis­sion Con­trol is lo­cated, so it’s the real thing, not a theme park.

Yet, there’s so much for tourists to do from strolling un­der rock­ets that have been to space and touch a rock from the moon to tour­ing Mis­sion Con­trol.

Ev­ery­one re­mem­bers the phrases, “Hous­ton, we have lift off ” as space shut­tles leave Earth; “Hous­ton, the Ea­gle has landed” ut­tered by as­tro­naut Neil Arm­strong in 1969 just be­fore he be­came the first man to step on the moon; and ‘Hous­ton, we have a prob­lem’ when an oxy­gen tank ex­ploded in 1970 on Apollo 13 and the mis­sion had to be aborted.

It’s a shame we didn’t have time for Kamah Board­walk, which a lit­tle far­ther south from the space cen­tre.

We would have got­ten our thrill on at the board­walk’s seven-storey Fer­ris wheel, the 30-me­tre Drop Zone and Brave the Bul­let wooden roller coaster.

On the drive back to the air­port, we stop at Buf­falo Bayou Park for the best view of down­town Hous­ton’s shiny sky­line.

As an oil, bank­ing and head­of­fice hub, Hous­ton has grown to 6.5 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion and is the fourth big­gest city in the U.S. be­hind Los An­ge­les, New York and Chicago.

It might very well sur­pass Chicago in the next cen­sus to be­come third-largest.

“Hous­ton is pri­mar­ily a busi­ness des­ti­na­tion, but we’d love to see more tourists, es­pe­cially from Canada,” said Visit Hous­ton in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing man­ager Celia Mo­rales.

“For tourists we have year­round nice weather, golf, 20 mu­se­ums, the space cen­tre, Down­town Aquar­ium, great shop­ping and ho­tels and pro­fes­sional sports.”

Base­ball’s Hous­ton Astros play in down­town’s Minute Maid Park, bas­ket­ball’s Hous­ton Rock­ets call the Toy­ota Cen­tre home and foot­ball’s Tex­ans play out of Re­liant Park.

There are non-stop flights to Hous­ton from Toronto, Calgary, Ed­mon­ton and Van­cou­ver with Air Canada, WestJet and United Air­lines.

Check out VisitHous­ton.com.

SUB­MIT­TED

With a pop­u­la­tion of 6.5 mil­lion peo­ple, Hous­ton is the fourth largest city in the U.S. be­hind Los An­ge­les, New York and Chicago.

STEVE MACNAULL

NASA John­son Space Cen­tre is Hous­ton’s big­gest tourist at­trac­tion.

STEVE MACNAULL

The cof­fin of no­ble­woman Neskhons in the Hall of An­cient Egypt at the Hous­ton Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral Science.

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