Known at least in part for its picturesque location on Galveston Island, Moody Gardens and the Moody Gardens Hotel often come to mind as spring and summer destinations. Every year, approximately two million individuals, couples, and families travel from across Texas and states beyond to enjoy the 242 acres of beautiful scenery and educational attractions, many of which seem best suited to warm weather fun. But this tropical paradise also offers a host of special events and activities specifically designed with wintertime in mind.
Now a “public, nonprofit educational destination utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research,” Moody Gardens’ roots took hold more than 30 years ago under a different name. The Moody family opened Hope Therapy and Arena in 1986 first as a horse barn, riding arena, and hippotherapy program. The vision and master plan focused on creating a tourist destination that offered therapy, education, and employment for those with physical and emotional disabilities, and while no longer a site for hippotherapy, Moody Gardens remains connected to and supportive of this community. “Every year we host two events for those with special needs,” explains Alexis Shelly, Public Relations Coordinator. “We offer a Mardi Gras-themed ball for people with disabilities and their caretakers, as well as a summer water sports fest that allows those with physical limitations to participate in extreme water sports using adapted equipment.”
In 1988, the family-friendly and ADA-accessible Palm Beach, as well as Seaside Safari (now The Learning Place and the home of Moody Gardens’educational programs), opened to the public. Growth continued during the 1990s, as Moody Gardens opened two greenhouses to house on-site plant development and the medicinal plant program, the Rainforest Pyramid with 1,700 species of plants and animals, an authentic replica paddle wheeler, the Discovery Pyramid to house the Living in the Stars exhibit, the hotel and spa, the 3D Theater Complex, and the Aquarium Pyramid with 10,000 marine animals. Since 2000, expansion, updates, and renovations have continued; the 4D Special FX Theater opened, the Moody Gardens golf course opened as a redesigned version of the Galveston Municipal golf course, the Rainforest Pyramid received extensive updates, and Palm Beach was expanded to include a lazy river, waterslides, a wave pool, and a splash pad.
Opening in 1998 and fully renovated in 2014, the Moody Gardens Hotel is a premiere destination for visitors not just to Moody Gardens, but to the entire Galveston area. The establishment has received numerous awards and accolades, including the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, Gold Key Award, Pinnacle Award, and AAA 4 Diamond Award, and stands proudly behind the experience of each and every one of its visitors.
The hotel’s light, airy, and comfortable guestrooms and suites come with an impressive list of in-room amenities and make every guest feel both at home and on vacation. A wide variety of seasonal and holiday packages, as well as packages focused on romance, health and wellness, family time, and cruising out of Galveston, are available.
While staying on the premises, hungry guests have a plethora of dining options. Widely recognized as the finest luxury dining establishment in the Galveston area, Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks has received the AAA 4 Diamond Award for fine dining and is known for its expertly prepared fresh seafood and steaks and stunning landscape views of the gulf. Before or after dinner, adults can savor unique and well-crafted cocktails at Shearn’s Lounge.
Families and guests who prefer a more informal atmosphere will enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, or evening drinks and hors-d’oeuvres at Café in the Park. The Lobby Bar serves up casual drinks alongside sports on large-screen televisions, pool in the billiards room, and charging stations in the work area. Those in need of a caffeine pick-me-up can pop into Moody Brews for Starbucks coffee and grab-and-go food. During the warmer months, guests can satisfy a sweet tooth with Blue Bell ice cream, homemade waffle cones and bowls, and other frozen desserts and snacks at Blossoms, the poolside snack stand. A poolside bar also offers drinks, snacks, and live entertainment on summer weekends. Last but not least, room service is available 24 hours a day.
After indulging in the many delicious food and drink options available throughout the hotel, guests might opt for a trip to Fitness Center, which is open 24 hours a day and includes locker rooms, showers, a dry sauna, workout equipment, and a yoga room. Yoga classes are available on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Alternatively, those who prefer to relax and rejuvenate can visit the onsite spa to take advantage of treatments and packages to “refresh the mind, body, and spirit”. Those in need of extensive pampering should opt for the Day of Luxury, which includes a Swedish massage, nourishing facial, hydrotherapy bath, hibiscus garden manicure and pedicure, hairstyle, lunch, and a special gift. Also popular are the Simply Pleasure (a Swedish massage, simple facial, hydrotherapy bath, and express manicure and pedicure) and the Coconut Island Escape, which includes a coconut sugar rub, coconut milk hydrotherapy bath, abbreviated Swedish massage, and coconut lava manicure and pedicure. Brides and bridesmaids have a number of wedding packages available to them, expectant mothers can treat themselves to the Mommy-to-Be package, and for men who enjoy a little pampering, the spa offers a King for the Day package with a deep tissue massage, hydrotherapy bath, brewmaster pedicure, beer, and a serving of mixed nuts.
If a package does not suit, guests can schedule specific treatments. The spa offers massages, facials, hydrotherapies, body exfoliations, body wraps, nail services, and hair services as well as make-up application, eyelash and brow tinting, and waxing for men and women. The spa is open 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome, however, reservations are
accepted and encouraged.
Festival of Lights
Moody Gardens, the hotel, and the eight primary attractions remain open and welcome visitors year-round. But starting in late November, Moody Gardens doubles its number of attractions to become one the largest holiday destinations in the Southwest. Highlighted by the famous Festival of Lights and Ice Land exhibits, the season opens November 17 and runs through January 6.
Now in its seventeenth year, the Festival of Lights is a beloved tradition on Galveston Island. More than one million twinkling bulbs, as well as 100 animated light displays, illuminate the mile-long trail that weaves throughout the Moody Gardens property. Visitors can walk the trail at their own pace, enjoying the music and pausing along the way to roast marshmallows and build s’mores. For a different view of the lights, visitors can board the Colonel Paddlewheel for an evening cruise through Offatts Bayou.
To create Ice Land, a team of master ice carvers from China arrives in Galveston in September and works tirelessly for months turning two million pounds of ice into a stunning attraction. When Ice Land finally opens to visitors for the fifth year on November 17, the 2018 “Pole to Pole” theme will have come to life in the form of giant polar bears, penguins, seals, and other North and South Pole animals and scenery.
While meandering through Ice Land, guests can admire the ice sculptures, ride the giant, 30-foot ice slide, and visit Shivers Ice Bar (also constructed completely out of ice) for a frozen treat. Ice Land is kept at a chilly nine degrees to preserve the artists’ creations, so while complementary parkas are distributed prior to entry and hats and mittens are available for purchase, visitors should bring cold weather accessories and wear both pants and closed-toe shoes.
Moody Gardens is home to the area’s only outdoor ice skating rink, and visitors are welcome to bring skates or rent them onsite. Moody Gardens also offers an arctic slide, holiday films on the largest 3D screen in Texas, train rides through the Festival of Lights, photos with Santa, delicious buffets on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and concession areas offering festive foods and hot chocolate.
Tremendously popular in years past, Lone Star Circus’ Cirque Joyeux Noel will return to Moody Gardens from December 21 to January 4. This spectacular holiday-themed show features acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, and animal performers and includes dinner as well as admission to the Festival of Lights.
Visitors can choose how to best experience the holidays at Moody Gardens. All-inclusive passes are available, as are a la cart tickets to specific attractions. “We want every guest to make their own adventure,” explains Shelly. “Pick and choose, and tailor your day – or days – based on time, budget, interests.” That said, those who would prefer not feel rushed should consider spending two days and enjoying the hotel’s hospitality for a night
Moody Gardens and the hotel’s luxury accommodations welcome guests 365 days a year. But when the Festival of Lights and Ice Land open every November, Moody Gardens becomes even more spectacular. This year, experience the magic and come “hotel” for the holidays.