By Kat Robinson
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a series.
One bit of advice when you’re traveling with a toddler: they set the schedule. Sure, that’s within reason. Obviously you’re not going to let your toddler hold you up on checking out of the hotel on time or determine certain mealtimes. But there are battles you have to pick.
The battle I don’t pick is on wake-up times. If I wake Hunter too early I know I’m going to have a cranky kid on my hands — exactly what I don’t need when I go on vacation. There is the fear, of course, that we’ll miss things we want to do. The lesson I learned myself on this particular day was this: this vacation and its story aren’t about all the things we could have done. It’s about what’s reasonable and possible to do with a young child.
So instead of starting our day at 7 a.m. and heading to Moody Gardens at 9 a.m., Hunter didn’t rise until the bright shining hour of 10:30 a.m. Yes, this did cause a little consternation for me, but it also allowed me to get my work done (as a writer, I write every day, even during vacation… so you can read stuff like this!). On the other hand, when she woke she was happy, dry and raring to go.
We decided to catch an early lunch instead of heading straight over to the attractions. We had a recommendation to check out a little joint on 61st Street called Cajun Greek. I’d seen it when we came in and had wondered if it was a fish market — indeed, the sign actually says “Cajun Greek Fresh Gulf Seafood.” Without the recommendation, I wouldn’t have gone.
And that would have been a shame. You’ve heard the phrase “do one thing, do it well” at some point in your life, haven’t you? The folks at Cajun Greek don’t get that at all. They do everything well, as far as I could tell. The place packed out while we were there. We had a seat at a window table and placed our orders with a waitress. The menu actually says “We are not a fast food restaurant. If we are busy, the wait may be up to 45 minutes.” I was utterly copasetic with that. The hubster got antsy after a few minutes, but I pulled up the menu image on my camera and reminded him of what it said. That cooled his heels.
Hunter was very observant, looking out the window and inspecting what was inside, too. She was extraordinarily impressed by an inflatable crawfish holding a bottle of beer and a package of crab boil hanging from the ceiling. I was marveling at the really cool bar in the shape of a ship’s hull. There’s not a lot of décor in Cajun Greek but what’s there is amusing.
We split everything. The House Salad came out first, a side for my entrée topped with some of the house Greek dressing. It was very tart and tangy, a blend of a traditional olive oil vinaigrette and tapenade. Hunter immediately claimed the tomato wedges out of the salad, stuffing her mouth full. We should just start ordering her tomatoes on their own in restaurants; she adores them.
Then came the shrimp po’boy with French fries. We’d ordered it with the tartar sauce on the side — Paul can’t stand any mayonnaise based condiment — and got it with both the tartar and a cocktail sauce on the side. I mention this because I’ve never tasted such a cocktail sauce — tangy with an underlying flavor to it that ranged somewhere between a hoisin sauce and duck sauce in sweetness, very fresh and very tasty. We both ended up putting it on our po’boys.
The shrimp was marvelously fresh, nicely battered and decently drained out of the fryer. The French bread was a little softer than crusty but was buttery and pliant too. Very nice.
Hunter, of course, absconded with about half the fries. These were battered fries and they were just salty enough for comfort. She dipped them over and over again in ketchup and decided that was about all she wanted.
Too bad for her — because the gyro showed up. And it was fat. The pita had been packed with chunks — not shavings, not strips, chunks — of gyro meat heavy on sage. It came doused in just enough tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, lettuce and white onion ringlets. We divided it and ate it with forks — there was no use attempting to pick it up by hand. Hunter was offered some but declined, and since she’d already feasted on tomatoes I wasn’t so worried about that.
Our lunch with beverages was $19.86 — not bad and well within our budget.
We made a quick trip back to our room to pick up a fresh shirt for Hunter and to give her a chance at bathroom time. Then it was off to Moody Gardens — a nice little jaunt right across the parking lot.
We started off with the Rainforest Pyramid. I understand it was damaged not by Hurricane Ike but by the storm surge that followed. The surge loosened up the sand between pavers, allowing water to get into the basement and form sinkholes. I can appreciate the efforts Moody Gardens took to shore things up — not only fixing what needed to be repaired but adding in a skywalk that includes a section of sky-high butterfly garden.
The Rainforest exhibit started with a series of stations where you could hear the different animals found in the forest. Hunter laughed at a display of Pygmy Slow Loris before we moved to the next station — her favorite, the river otters.
We must have spent 15 minutes there. She was just so thrilled with the long skinny creatures and watched them with interspersed laughter. After a short while they started noticing her, and one of them kept playing right by her at the window.
We went on up to the skywalk, which takes you high above the “floor” of the rainforest section. Here there are plastic vents that bring a little cool air to the otherwise extraordinarily moist, hot air. Hunter and Paul enjoyed spotting birds and other creatures high amongst the treetops.
We kept going and entered the butterfly section. Here screens keep most of the butterflies in a protected environment, though we did notice several who had made their way out of the enclosure. Children flocked here, seeing if they could get the butterflies to land on them. There are several plants about to attract the flutterbys… one of which Hunter squatted down to watch for a while as it collected more and more of the big winged creatures.
We passed by a module that showed how hot it was — an astounding 107 degrees with 100 percent humidity! That’s even hotter than outside! But it’s necessary to keep all those rainforest creatures and plants surviving just like they would in the while.
We passed through an indoor section where spiders, snakes, frogs and other reptiles, amphibians and insects were shown off. At the end of this section there were nocturnal animals such as a civet cat and this beautiful prickly porcupine nursing its young. There’s something about the look on that creature’s face.
We exited to an area that showed off Asian creatures, followed a bird we couldn’t identify for a while, gawked at a monitor lizard and a gecko sunning itself on a rock. We saw more parrots and macaws and other birds than we knew names for, stopped to watch a monkey and then skedaddled over to the MG3D theater for a showing of “Wild Ocean” — Hunter’s very first ever movie to be seen in a theater. We realized that after the fact. She did ask questions a lot at the beginning, but once the movie got underway and she got down the fact she needed to wear the glasses provided she really got into the whole production!
We took a break for a beverage and then headed over to the aquarium — where we ended up spending an hour and a half. The Aquarium Pyramid appears to be the largest of the three, and it’s packed with all sorts of sea life. It’s organized along several divided levels with ramps to get you from one place to the other. There is a suggested route involving following the schools of fish on the wall, but we were on Hunter’s terms, and she guided us through all the way down to the exit before we came back up to see everything.
Hunter had a lot of favorites there. She started out by petting a live starfish, then moved on to the seal enclosure, where she laughed at the seals playing for a long time. It took some convincing to persuade her to move on.
We headed down a ramp and found a big aquarium with a lot of different fish. There were also all sorts of different this and that sort of creatures here and there. For instance, we spent a good deal of time looking at baby seahorses of different colors and shapes. When we gazed into the big tank of exotic fish that extends a couple of stories up and down, she asked about the big silver and yellow fish. We told her they were yellowfin tuna and she started calling “here, sushi!” Where does she get this?
She was also mesmerized by the penguins. She loves penguins, and the variety of penguins on view ensure lots of things to see. When they would pop to the surface and suddenly be slowly waddling around she’d point and holler. A few found her interesting too, and they bobbed on the surface in front of her at the viewing theater.
She also had the chance to reach into a tank and touch different items, such as a spiny lobster and coral. She was told she could touch anything in there but only with one finger. She must have spent 10 minutes trying to touch one of the darting fish.
By this point we’d been at Moody Gardens for nearly four hours. And still Hunter was not done. We went over to the Discover Pyramid and were a little discouraged that the Happy Feet Ridefilm wasn’t a possibility for Hunter — the minimum ride height is 42 inches and Hunter is just 38 inches tall, tall for a toddler but not tall enough. So instead we went upstairs and played around in the Bones exhibit. We watched old Schoolhouse Rock bone songs, viewed the human skeleton encased in clear plastic in different poses, looked at some bug exoskeletons and did a little exercise in front of a mirror.
Paul was thrilled to find a lifesize Operation game… something Hunter’s not yet familiar with. She thought it was a little weird to be pulling parts out of a body. Well, if you think about it, it kinda is.
And then she decided she was hungry, and it was time to go. We walked back over to the Visitors Center, expecting to purchase a stuffed otter or something of the like for her as a special souvenir — it’s what we had budgeted for. Strange thing is, she wasn’t interested. My daughter is a cheap date. She eschewed the t-shirts and the plush toys and chose a little plastic triceratops as her souvenir instead. My daughter.
We went back to our room to freshen up then headed out to dinner at Landry’s over on the Seawall. I was glad we’d made reservations — there was a 45 minute wait for tables! We took advantage of the online special we’d found, the Distinctive Dining Menu, where you get a three course meal for $19.99. Paul chose the Redfish Verona as his entrée, while I had the 15 Shrimp Three Ways. His fish, by the way, a parmesan encrusted redfish fillet topped with artichokes, seafood and a lemon butter sauce? Awesome.
Not that I minded my three types of shrimp meal. Hunter even liked it — since I passed along fried shrimp and fried onions to her to go with her macaroni and cheese. At $4.50 it was a singular substantial mass of very cheesy macaroni. She got through about half of it, but that was fine. She was full and happy.
While we were waiting for our meal, Hunter got to playing with her new toy and somehow managed to get it tangled in Paul’s hair. I have to say, it was amusing to watch. I’m terrible, I know.
But he still let her play with his hat afterward. I have to admit, she’s a cute kid.
It was 9:30 by the time we got out of there. We went back to our room, changed and went down to the pool, where Hunter floated and practiced her swimming with Paul while I soaked in the hot tub. The pool at the Moody Gardens Hotel, by the way? Mondo cool. It only gets to five feet under the bridge, but as far as floating and playing goes it’s great. I also love the swim-up drink bar.
We had a late night of it, not getting to bed until about midnight. But what a time to be had. I kinda wished we had time to check out Palm Beach at Moody Gardens, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Besides, Schlitterbahn Waterpark was on the agenda for the next day. That was bound to be a blast.