The Moody Gardens on Galveston Island has taken another giant step toward building a world-class vacation destination by giving visitors a chance to feel and see the creatures of the four oceans of the globe without getting wet. The resort famous for its Rainforest Pyramid on June 25 opens The Aquarium at Moody Gardens, a 130,000-square-foot glass and steel pyramid containing 1.5 million gallons of fish tanks.
Visitors will dive into the cold, fertile waters of the North Pacific, take a journey to the depths of the Great Barrier Reef, stand at the edge of the Antarctic, and look through an underwater dome into the Caribbean Sea. "This is the only aquarium in the U.S. and one of the few in the world to create four world oceans as well as the shore environments," says Moody Gardens' Meredith Ply.
Built into the exhibits are hands-on experiences where guests get to touch a horseshoe crab, feed a sting-ray, or many other interactive exhibits. Besides a variety of unique opportunities to view the more than 10,000 marine animals, guests will have the chance to ask divers questions as they work in the tanks. Using special microphones, divers will be able to communicate while underwater to visitors on the other side of the glass.
Stretching more than 10 stories high, the Aquarium is designed so that each environment has two levels. Visitors will be able to stroll the walkways to see above and below the water's surface. In the Antarctic exhibit the King Penguins play on what looks like the rocky beaches of South Georgia Island and then slip under the ice sheet.
In the Aquarium's largest and most remarkable exhibit, the Caribbean Sea, guests navigate through an underwater glass tunnel surrounded by a million gallons of water. With a diver's view of the coral-covered ocean floor, an assortment of colorful sea creatures swim close enough to reach out and touch if not for the glass wall.
From the freezing polar cap to the tropical Pacific, The Aquarium at Moody Gardens takes visitors on a journey around the world. Since it opened in 1982, the nonprofit Moody Gardens has become an international leader in education and research as well as recreational adventure.
The cornerstone of the development of the resort is Hope Therapy, a nationally recognized program that offers rehabilitative programs to disabled and injured clients. The program has expanded from using horseback riding as therapy (hippotherapy) to include horticulture and animal contact to improve sensory awareness and motor abilities.
In 1993, Moody Gardens opened the Rainforest Pyramid, a one-acre tropical ecosystem sitting within a 10-story glass house. Not only is the pyramid one of the largest butterfly habitats in the world, with more than 2,000 of the insects flying free, but it is also a research center. The man-made jungle uses no pesticides, so the staff is involved in an extensive effort to find the balance of environments in the Beneficial Insect Program.
The Medicinal Plant Program at the Gardens is a leading effort to collect and grow vegetation from rainforests that might help to control diseases. As cute as the King Penguins are, their presence at the Aquarium is part of scientific research. The flightless birds were brought to Galveston as eggs, and their entire life will be studied to the benefit of their cousins in the wild.
Not everything at the Moody Gardens is learning; there are also lots of fun things. Like play on the white sands of Palm Beach with waterfalls, Jacuzzis, volleyball courts, and paddleboats. All ages enjoy the tours aboard the Colonel Paddlewheeler Boat, an authentic reproduction of an 1800s paddlewheel that offers daily cruises on Offatt's Bayou.
The Gardens' two IMAX theatres present images six stories tall and so real that it seems like you can reach out and touch them. In the Ridefilm Theater, with a 180-degree wrap-around screen, the action includes a seat that moves with the film.
For a completely new kind of vacation, inquire about the volunteer opportunities. Scuba divers are often needed to help maintain the tanks while getting one of the most unusual dives imaginable. High school student programs teach various skills as well as taking care of the thousands of animals in the park.
The Gardens has added a 304-room hotel to make the facility all-inclusive. Moody Gardens is open daily year-round. Summer hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day) are 10am to 9pm. For more information, call 800/582-4673 or visit their Web site at http://www.moodygardens.com.
Coming up this weekend ...
Kerrville Folk Festival begins three weekends through June 13 of music at the Quiet Valley Ranch south of Kerrville on TX16. Tickets available at the gate or by calling 800/435-8429 or http://www.kerrville-music.com.
Fiesta Amistad in Round Rock presents Tejano music stars Eddie Gonzalez and Emilio along with mariachis, Ballet Folklorico, and food, May 29 & 30. 498-4677.
Agri-Feast in Seguin showcases the local agriculture industries plus food samples of locally grown products, May 27. 800/580-7322.
Coming up ...
Old Tunnel Bat Emergence Tours are held every Thursday and Saturday June through October at the Wildlife Management Area in the Hill Country south of Fredericksburg. Wildlife biologists conduct an interpretive program beginning about an hour before sunset, when the bats begin their nightly search for food. The bats leave the abandoned railroad tunnel on the Old San Antonio Road between US290 and Comfort just south of the ghost town of Grapetown. 830/644-2478.
Texas Scottish Festival & Highland Games in Arlington's Maverick Stadium combines athletic events with genealogy, a homebrew competition, and music, June 4-6. 817/654-2293.
Sunday drivers need to head out to the Lake Buchanan area and drive the backroads from Tow to Kingsland. Farm-to-Market Roads 2341, 2342, and 1431 are lined with fluorescent yellow flowers that are almost blinding they're so bright. 800/452-9292.
Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is now available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.
418th in a Series. Collect them all.