Every year since the first year I moved to Texas, which was 2012, Justin and I have gone to Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens. The first year or two, it was just the Festival of Lights, but then eventually they added Ice Land, which is a tent filled with colorful ice sculptures with a theme, and it’s a brisk 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
Moody Gardens is located on Galveston. It’s about an hour or so from downtown Houston, and maybe 45 or so minutes from where we live in Pearland, unless you have the luck we do, and keep on having to make u-turns because of closed highways or car accidents on Texas highways, which upped our trip to about 1.5 hours, but normally it’s only 45 minutes or so. Moody Gardens has a lot to do. It has an Aquarium Pyramid, which is actually a pretty cool place, Justin and I have been there a few times, and I would say that’s worth the money. There’s also a Rainforest Pyramid, which I’ve been to on field trips [the glamorous life of an elementary teacher] many many times… The Rainforest Pyramid is okay? It’s worth a visit maybe once, but I don’t think it’s really worth a repeat visit, it doesn’t really change, and aquatic animals are WAY more interesting than plants, monkeys, and birds, in my opinion, if I want to see monkeys and birds, I’ll just go to the Houston Zoo.
In the summer, they have a small water park called Palm Beach, I haven’t been there, but the parents of my special needs children tend to like it because it’s pretty much self-contained, which is great for a family with a special needs child. I personally prefer Schlitterbahn Galveston, which is literally right next door to Moody Gardens, sometimes Justin and I even get season passes for Schlitterbahn [if we don’t have summer plans] because if you go either really early in the morning, or early evening, you basically have the entire water park to yourself. There’s a high ropes course, but again, I’ve never tried it, and probably won’t.
Anyhow, in winter, Moody Gardens has the Festival of Lights, which is a “mile-long trail with more than one million lights” that “takes you around the Moody Gardens Property with spectacular views of Galveston Bay.” It also has an ice-skating ring, I tried it once, the ice was in pretty bad condition, and super crowded, and we barely lasted one minute on the ice before they made everyone get off the ice so they could use the Zamboni on the ice… if you want to ice-skate, I think you’re better off going to the Galleria, the ice is in much better condition. There’s also an arctic slide, which we’ve never done. Classic Holiday films to watch, which we’ve never done either… and a 4D version of Rudolph the Red-Noses Reindeer, which we’ve also never watched… You can take a train ride through the Festival of Lights, if you don’t feel like walking, but we’ve never done that either.
Anyhow, we always buy our tickets online through the Moody Gardens website, I can’t tell you if there’s a discount, but it’s a lot more convenient to print tickets at home, and then just show them to the people at the Festival of Lights and Ice Land instead of waiting on the long-ass line inside to purchase tickets, and you can do all sorts of combos online. You can just get tickets to Festival of Lights or Ice Land. You can get a combo ticket to Festival of Lights and Iceland [which is what we do], you can get a pass to all the winter activities, it’s just a lot easier and more convenient to get them before you show up, and you can either print them or use your phone as the ticket.
Usually we go during Christmas break since we’re off for two weeks, but this year we have crazy plans to go to Utah during Christmas Break and hit the Big 5 National Parks [Canyonlands, Zion, Arches, Bryce, & Capital Reef], so we chose to go on a Monday while school was in session, and when a cold front was coming in so it was colder than usual, and I highly recommend it. We were legitimately the only people on the Festival of Lights trail, and we had ample photo opportunities, and nobody getting in the way of our photos [or my many selfies] and it was wonderful. In Ice Land, we were one of two couples in there, it was empty. If you go during a school break or a weekend or a Thursday night [you get free admission with a canned good], you’ll probably hit a crowd, but when we went on our random Monday night, it was like we had the place to ourselves…
Anyways onward to the trail:
The first year Justin and I went, which was 2012/13 [sometime over our two week vacation that year], the entrance to Festival of Lights was in a completely different place than it is now. The entrance was where the exit is located now, and to this day, we both miss the way the trail used to look. It always seems like we’re walking backwards.
The first section of Festival of Lights is the festive section? It has the Polar Express, Santa’s Toy Factory, Elves, Children building snowmen, skiers, sleigh-riders, and that sort of thing:
Then you go down a row of Nutcrackers and Ballerina Dancers to a more open section of the trail:
The open section has the Christmas tree, a fire-pit, where you can toast marshmallows and get the ingredients for S’mores. You can also buy beer and snacks. Until about two years ago, they had the animation for the 12 Days of Christmas with lights and music in that section, and you could watch it play while you ate you S’more or drank your hot chocolate [or adult hot chocolate with booze in it], but they’ve moved that section since then, and now just have the display with the Christmas Factory and such, and it’s not the same as it was.
Next up is the “Enchanted Forest”, where there are lights of different kinds of animals, as well as the lit-up grove of trees:
After the grove of trees is Gingerbread Land [not it’s official name, I’m just calling it that], where it’s mostly lights of gingerbread men/women and gingerbread houses.
Next on the trail is an underwater section dedicated to lights of fish, scuba-diving Santa, Spongebob Squarepants, Pirates, and a school of fish, amongst other lights.
Then you cross “Candy-Cane Bridge”, which may be one of the most popular spots on the trail for selfies: [we’ve taken a selfie here every year since we’ve started going]
Next up is a Fantasy Garden, where there are flowers, spiders, a giant cowboy boot [this is Texas after all], and than random animals like turtles and alligators:
Then you enter a more “festive” area consisting of fairy-tale characters, Christmas carolers, fireplaces, and toys… AND THERE’S A UNICORN!
Next up, you reach the ice-skating rink, which has random lights, that really don’t seem to fit in with any other area, let’s call it the “area of the misfit Christmas Lights”, but at least there are kitty-lights.
The final section of the Festival of Lights has an animated Christmas story with lights, music, & sound that tells the story of Jesus Christ and how Christmas came to be. I have no pictures from it, but it’s probably worth watching, if you’ve never seen it before. It also has the one lone nod to my Jewish culture, a lit-up Menorah:
Then there’s a path full of lit-up angels, and it leads to the new location of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song and animation.
I don’t really like the new location of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” The old location had a huge gigantic field, where all the lights were location, and it was easy to have a panoramic view of the lights during the entire song, in the new area, it seems cramped and random? There were also tables to sit at since it was right where the refreshments were location, in the new area, there’s no sitting room, you just need to stand and watch it.
It also seems like the soundtrack they play during the Festival of Lights path was off. The soundtrack was based on the order of where the lights used to be, but since they changed the locations, you’ll hear the train track from the Polar Express, nowhere near the train, the animal noises from the forest near the gardens, and it just seems off.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy our yearly trek through the Festival of Lights, I just wish it was more like the way it was a few years ago… I mean why change something that was pretty much awesome as it was?
But anyways, even despite my criticisms, the Festival of Lights is totally worth checking out, especially if you’ve never been there before. It always gets me in a Christmas mood, it’s even better when it’s colder out since 80 degree during December while strolling through lights just seems wrong in so many different ways.
After we walked through Festival of Lights, we went to Ice Land.
The theme this year was “Pole to Pole” and there were polar bears, penguins, humpback whales, owls, walruses, narwhals, and reindeer. There is also an overpriced bar made out of ice, where you can buy a drink for way too much money, I’m talking like fifteen for a tiny sized drinks.
Moody Gardens provides parkas for Ice Land, but I HIGHLY recommend bringing a hat, and wearing gloves, also don’t be an idiot and go there in like flip-flops. I know it’s Texas people and like 80 degrees outside, but nine degrees and flip-flops don’t mix, at least wear sneakers! Justin also enjoyed his portable USB hand-warmer. I personally didn’t think the 9 degrees felt cold after camping in New Mexico for two nights in a tent in twenty-degree weather.
I’ll just let the rest of my pictures do the narrating for this part of the trip.
After Antarctica was the Arctic, which is where they had the usual display of the ice-cut Christmas trees, Santa, etc, among other animals.
There’s also an ice-slide every single year:
Ice Land was so empty when we were there that Justin could go down the slide as many times as he wanted without having to wait in a line. We also raced down the slide, and I’m happy to say I kicked his ass, thank you very much.
As you leave Ice Land, there’s always a preview for what the theme will be for next year…. Since they’ve started Ice Land, the themes have been Spongebob Square Pants and Friends, which was dorky but cool because they had all sorts of sea creatures carved out of ice, a Caribbean Christmas, which had tons of fish, coral reefs, and beach themes, and Rainforest, which is exactly what it sounds like. This year as aforementioned was Pole to Pole. Next year will be Christmas Around the World:
After Ice Land, we went to the car, and headed home, stopping at the Bucc-ees in Texas City, of course, to get watermelon slushies.
Overall, I would say Ice Land is a lot more fun than Festival of Lights probably because it is so different every year… Festival of Lights hasn’t really changed much since we started going there… just the order of the lights has changed and the paths have been rearranged, but both are a good time, and something I enjoy doing every year. It’s one of JZSquared’s Christmas Traditions 😉