Moody Gardens Galveston

by Jessica on January 19, 2012

Moody Gardens and its iconic pyramidal structures has long been a fixture upon the Galveston shores, but complex holds surprises for first time visitors.  First of all, the complex isn’t nearly as grumpy or arboreal as the name might suggest.  Moody Gardens began in the 1980s with a hippotherapy riding program for people with head injuries and the hope to become a premiere tourist attraction.  Today, Moody Gardens is a vast compound that includes an aquarium, a beachfront waterpark, a rainforest habitat, three different movie viewing experiences, and a science museum.  

Aquarium Pyramid

The largest of the three pyramids on the Moody Gardens complex houses one of the largest aquariums in the world.  The aquarium is divided into four distinct ocean environments.  

The chilly South Atlantic exhibit houses five different species of penguins that you can meet up close and personal.   

The highlight of the North Pacific exhibit is meeting Squirt, the blind sea lion who playful scoots around entertaining guests.  The South Pacific is filled with colorful coral and beautiful fish. 

The Caribbean is the largest exhibit in the aquarium and includes sharks, sea turtles and eels.  At the center of the Caribbean exhibit stands a tunnel where visitors can gaze in amazement as the animals glide overhead. 

Throughout the aquarium, there are plenty of hands on places for kids to touch friendly sea creatures or games, such as the shark search that make the aquarium even more fun.  The kids had a fabulous time stamping their passports as they found all the species of sharks in the aquarium and loved the touch tanks. 

Rainforest Pyramid

This pyramid could be considered Moody Gardens’ symbol of hope, as well as a reminder of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion.  The “action” in this case was Hurricane Ike which left behind great destruction to the Rainforest exhibit.  Moody Garden’s “ equal and opposite reaction” in this case was to clear away the wreckage and rebuild the Rainforest Pyramid bigger and better than ever. 

The new exhibit allows visitors to tour all the levels of the rainforest from the canopy to the rainforest floor. The new canopy exhibit gives visitors an eye level view of monkeys, sloths, and other free roaming tree dwellers.  A butterfly exhibit is also included in the canopy.  As you journey downward, you will pass through the cloud layer where you will encounter colorful frogs and artifacts from the rainforest people.  A nocturnal exhibit allows you to encounter creatures that only come out at night. 

The rainforest floor was our favorite part of the exhibit, combining fascinating flora and fauna (like a carnivorous pitcher plant) with immersive scenery, like the Mayan temple that is home to a green anaconda, piranhas, caiman lizards, and even vampire bats. 

MG 3-D Theatre

At six stories tall, it’s the largest theatre in Texas and the perfect place to catch a movie so realistic that you want to reach out and touch it.   Of course, if you are the parents of kids who have been racing around the Gardens all morning, it might be the perfect place to catch a quick nap while the kids do something fun and educational.


Depending on your perspective (which seems to be somewhat connected to your age) you could describe this as a totally- awesome- can’t –wait –to –do-it –again thrill ride or a vertigo enducing, kidney rattling, when will it be over sacrifice for the happiness of your children.  The eighteen passenger ride is surrounded by 180 degree screen that fully immerses you in the action as the ride dips and dives to add the thrill.  The kids loved this ride and couldn’t wait to do it again, while I wisely chose to entertain myself in the giftshop.  Lesson learned: there is a certain age at which any ride described as “high impact” is unadvisable.

FD Special FX Theatre

Combines special effects, such as wind, smoke, mist, leg ticklers, seat buzzers with a 3-D movie and surround sound.  The film features Dora the Explorer and Diego, so it was a big hit with the little ones in our group, but the older kids would have happily put a bag over their heads to not be seen in the “baby” movie.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the show, although some were more reluctant to admit it than others and we all learned a lesson in family compromise. 

Colonel Paddlewheel’s Boat

Colonel Paddlewheel Boat is an authentic replica of an 1800-style Paddlewheeler and offers hour long cruises around the Offats Bayou.   Climate controlled rooms and refreshments are available inside, but you’ll want to get a seat on the rails for the best views of the bayou and to feel the ocean breezes.

Discovery Pyramid

Think of this third pyramid as a revolving science museum. Traveling exhibits that change seasonally offer something new every time you visit.  During our visit, we explored the world of bones, which was not highly interesting to anyone in our group, but if we were Galveston natives, I would definitely want a season pass here to have an opportunity to see the rotating choices.

Palm Beach

This is another area of the park that got a complete facelift after the destruction of Hurricane Ike.  Enhancements include a lazy river, 18-foot tower slides, wave pool, and educational Kon-Tiki theme.  All of this is surrounded by a beautiful and relaxing white sand beach and is available seasonally.

Is it Worth the Price

One of the greatest concerns about the Moody Gardens is the price.  At first glance, the price ($49.95 for an all access pass) does seem pretty steep for an animals and movies experience.  Tickets for each individual attraction can be purchased, but often the all access pass is a better choice.  Mostly, no one likes to spend money and feel like they didn’t get enough bang for their buck.  So, will you be happy spending your money at Moody Gardens?

  • Think of Moody Gardens as an educational amusement park.  Most families think nothing about spending $40-$50 per ticket for tickets to Six Flags or a waterpark.  If your family enjoys museums and zoos, then the all access pass will be a great deal.  Think about it is this way: you are getting tickets for an aquarium, a zoo, 3 movies, a boat ride, and a waterpark for a full day of entertainment.  At $49.95 per person, that is a good deal.
  • However, if your family wouldn’t be thrilled with all of the attractions, you might want to pick and choose what would be the most fun for you.
  • So, how do you choose?  Both the Aquarium and the Rainforest Pyramids are worth the price of admission and do not disappoint.  At the individual prices, a ticket to both would run an adult $41.90, so if you are going to attend both and even one more attraction, you are better off buying the all access pass.  If you have to choose just one, I would go for the Rainforest if you have had the opportunity to go to a good aquarium before.
  • The three movies are entertaining, but are overpriced individually, so only choose these if they are really on your wish list or are a part of your all access pass. 
  • Colonel Paddlewheel’s boat is a fun ride, but not at the top of the list if you have to make choices while watching your budget.
  • Discovery Pyramid is another attraction that is a great part of the all access pass, but can be skipped if you are making ticket choices, especially if you have a good science museum nearby.

 How to Save Money and Not Miss a Thing

  • You can get a savings of $3 per ticket if you buy your tickets online before you arrive.
  • Book a Moody Gardens package that includes your room and two-day tickets to Moody Gardens.
  • Search the internet for coupon sites that might offer a current coupon.
  • Moody Gardens offers one free admission to one attraction for each child on the honor roll, so bring your recent report card.


A Final Note about Hope and Healing at Moody Gardens

Like most of Galveston, Moody Gardens was hit hard by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and had heavy work to reconstruct and rebuild.  I was excited to see how they had used the adversity to come back even stronger and better.   In the main hall, photographs and diagrams detailed the destruction and resulting community spirit that led to the excellent reconstruction.

Although this was the story of hope, I was expecting to see at Moody Gardens, it was another story of hope and healing that surprised and inspired me.   And although they have achieved their goal to become a premiere tourist attraction, they have not lost sight of their roots.   From the beginning, Hope Therapy has been the cornerstone of Moody Gardens, providing horticultural and horse therapy to mentally and physically disabled individuals.  Vocational training and job opportunities at Moody Gardens are a big part of the Hope Therapy program.  Seeing and interacting with these individuals and watching them bring their passion and pride to their work rubbed off on everyone around them and was a big part of making our visit to Moody Garden magical.

~Moody Gardens provided me and my family with tickets to all the attractions during our visit.  They did not require that I express any particular viewpoint and all opinions are my own.~


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