That One Day at… Houston Downtown Aquarium Home School Day

The night before, MaiTai told me with a hint of sadness that he wanted a dinosaur friend to play with. I thought, Oh no, does he need more friends? Is this uncharacteristic request a sign of loneliness??

I said, “We’re going to the Aquarium to see fish and play on rides tomorrow and there will be lots of kids to play with!”

He said, “Okay. But can I turn them into dinosaurs?”


“Okay. Because I only wanted to be friends with a dinosaur, not the kids.”

Ah yes, this child I recognize.


Place Stats

Web Site Link: Houston Downtown Aquarium

Description: Via web site – “This magnificent six-acre entertainment and dining complex is a 500,000-gallon aquatic wonderland, home to over 200 species of aquatic life from around the globe. With a full-service restaurant, an upscale bar, a fully equipped ballroom, aquatic & geographic exhibits, shopping and a variety of amusements[…]”

Location: 410 Bagby St., Houston, TX 77002

Hours: Home School Day 2016 takes place only on Fri., Feb. 12th. Regular exhibit hours: Mon. – Thurs. from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m; Fri. and Sat. from 10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Sunday from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Fee: Home School Day sessions/classes are $15 per person over age 4 for morning or afternoon schedule or $20 for both. A discounted All Day Adventure Pass for normal exhibits and rides is $10 per person over the age of 2. Regular Aquarium prices are found here. Parking on-site is $7 self or $9 valet.

Food: Home School Day participants have the option of a pre-ordered picnic lunch (basic sandwich, chips, cookie, drink) for $4. For variable additional fees you could order the expected vending concessionery from a stand in the rides area. You could also visit the establishment’s upper-level restaurant that has a kids’ menu and tables situated around a 150,000 gallon marine tank.

Bathrooms: Yes, to the right when you enter. Or maybe the left. I forget what the lady said. Somewhere by the front?

Contact Them: Call 713-223-FISH (3474) to reach the main line. Reach the Aquarium Education Department at (713) 315-5112 or to reserve a spot for Home School Day.

Other: They emphasize that pre-registration is required for sessions. However the attitude is a bit more flexible if you only want the Adventure Pass and wait to pay for yourself and home-/unschooler on the way in.


Photos & Feelings

We checked in at this window. Our ‘group’ was… around. So it was just the two of us checking in. And we don’t go to school. So I kind of felt like a liar? But I prefer to call it interpretive unschooling.


MaiTai does NOT like his hair getting wet, damp, sweaty, or misted in any way. He was a bit annoyed that the waterfall wasn’t farther away from the check-in (despite its containment behind a glass wall. Starting to think this watery “500,000 gallon aquatic wonderland” adventure might not be such a great idea…).

We decided to check out the indoor aquarium exhibits first.

MaiTai said he wanted to buy one of these fish. I asked why and he said to give to his grandparents Sassy and Poppy who have two large fish tanks, “so the fish can live in there because they’ll feed them and no one is feeding these fish. See, they’re all looking for food and there is no food.”

Out of like a gagillion fish he liked the one with a damaged eyeball the best.

“Look, he has no eye there, and an eye on the other side. I would buy that one.”

I managed to convince him that almost every creature was ‘dinosaur-like,’ so thankfully no need to turn nearby kids into them. This turtle gets 5 stars for pulling off the late Jurassic period look.


I’m not sure if we were allowed to sit on this piece of scenery, but we thought it was suitable for a snackage pit-stop anyway. Here is the “but you said you were getting raisins why did you get the camera instead” look.


Right after eating, MaiTai said he wanted to go home. He says this about 20 minutes into any activity away from our residence so I wasn’t surprised. Reaching the exit required a continued trek through the exhibits, however. He was interested in the ‘crocodiles’ (American alligators, I corrected — he didn’t believe me) and a macaw whose environment was equipped with a speaker that ‘talked’ on its behalf (kinda weird).

MaiTai also liked these enormous fish that are from… Jupiter I think? I didn’t read the infographs but that seems about right. He noted that they are the size of Angus, my parents’ English mastiff.


He was very excited to see a tank teeming with these bright fishies. He said “Look, they’re HAPPY fish!” He wanted me to take a picture of this one because “he’s smiling.”


MaiTai was less impressed by virtually all other tank inhabitants. He said the octopus was sad. I asked why he thought that, and he said “Because he’s in the ee-ah [water] and it’s too wet.” I guess octopi prefer to keep their hair dry, too.

We missed the sting ray reef exhibit that allows you to feed them… but we did make it past the white tiger enclosure. Sigh. I had forgotten the Aquarium trapped these rather out-of-place animals in here recently. If MaiTai thought the octopus looked sad, he probably didn’t want to get too close a look at the big cats…

He quickly dragged me past that crowded spectacle (thanks MaiTai!) into the Gift Shop (not so much thanks…) where he decided he wanted a stuffed white tiger because “it’s so cute.” Much cuter than a real tiger confined to inappropriate living quarters indeed… but I kept that thought to myself… mostly because we’d just observed a bunch of other species also in man-made environments and I felt myself sliding down that slippery slope of “where does hypocrisy began and end” and I just needed to get us (and our wallet) safely out of the Gift Shop.

Our friends pointed us in the direction of the rides. Yes, rides are always certain to win over MaiTai’s thrill-seeking personality!

First, the carousel.

And second, the carousel again.

MaiTai said this is his favorite photo from the day.



Next, the train — which is wired with an absurdly loud recording that tells passengers some neat facts about marine life, peppered with reminders of the establishment’s ability to host birthdays and dinner parties.

When it first started playing, MaiTai yelled, “Tell him to BE QUIET!” Ha.


The train took a tour around the perimeter of the Aquarium and made a stop in a tunnel where sharks swam to and fro and above us.

Over the bridge and through the woods…


MaiTai said he didn’t like this part “because it looked dangerous.” Good instincts.


So, all the other gaming amusements seemed to take cash only. Face painting was more compatible with our wallet options.

He came to the Aquarium a MaiTai, and left a Spider-Man.




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