Special Needs Travel
Having never been to Houston before, my mind conjured up the images of the Astrodome, high rises full of oil barons, and Johnson Space Center, the famous mission control center that heard the word, "Houston, we have a problem."
I had no idea of the rich history of Houston or of its people. In preparing the trip, I did a bit of research and found out that not only does Houston have the things I thought it did, with the exception of the Astrodome, which has been replaced by Minute Maid Park, there is a lot more going on in Houston. Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, and boasts the largest concentration of scientists and physicians in the world. Its origins date back to the Texas Revolution, and it has seen catastrophe, disease, and lawlessness, but has moved onward to become a world center for oil, science, education, and shipping.
So, what is Houston like for the traveler with a disability? Actually, pretty good!
We flew into Hobby Airport, which is the smaller of their two airports on Southwest. It was easy to maneuver, with the small exception of a very crowded luggage claim area. I wish I could say I was thrilled by the number of accessible shuttles for rental cars. This is not the case. We only saw them for Hertz and Budget/Thrifty.
We were staying at the Residence Inn Downtown Houston. This is definitely the heart of the business district, as opposed to the more family-friendly Galleria area. There were many homeless people near our hotel, but they were just trying to find a place to sleep, and didn't approach us.
We were able to move around easily through downtown Houston. Curb cuts were very good, and light signals gave plenty of time to cross the street.
Public transportation was excellent! All of the busses and light Metra rail are wheelchair accessible.
We spent time exploring other areas of the city, as well. Here are some highlights:
Our first day was spent at the Houston Space Center. They have done an excellent job of including everyone in the family, regardless of ability, into their exhibits. The facilities were easy to get around, and even the trams were accessible.
The Museum District in Houston has several museums, all within short walking distance of each other. Curb cuts were a bit steep, and assistance was required. The museums, themselves, were good. Be forewarned at the Art Museum, though. Because of the architecture, a wheelchair user will find they will spend a lot of time in elevators trying to navigate to the exhibits. We also noticed that the Beck building had all the accessible bathrooms; they were difficult to find in the Law Building.
We went to the Aquarium, which is a very interesting place. It is nothing like other aquariums I have seen before. The exhibit makes you feel like you are traveling through the jungle, with sound effects and props surrounding the tanks. If you have sensory issues, this might not be the best place to go. The exhibits were fairly easy to get around, even though the ground is a little uneven. The last exhibit is a White Tiger display. They have two beautiful white tigers who are very lively. I enjoyed watching them, but couldn't for the life of me understand why there were tigers at the aquarium. The exit from the Aquarium goes through a very crowded, narrow gift shop that was a challenge in a manual wheelchair.
The Aquarium also has a small amusement part with carnival style games and rides. It was over 100 degrees, so we didn't partake.
The best part of the Aquarium is the upstairs restaurant. It is easy to get to, by elevator, and is really very cool. The center of the restaurant is a huge tank that houses rays, sharks, eels, and a variety of tropical fish. It was fun to enjoy dinner and watch the natural show of fish. The food was good; nothing exceptionally gourmet, but it was a great experience nonetheless.
We did make it out to the Galleria, which is the star mall in Houston. It is huge and filled with many, many shops that I will never be able to afford. There are more mainstream shops, as well, and several restaurants ranging from a food court to more upscale establishments. Parking underground is free, and there are several handicap parking spots. There are also "express" lots right outside some of the stores and restaurants that charge an hourly fee.
The thing to note about the Galleria area is the traffic! It is terrible! Be prepared to crawl through the streets because of the numerous businesses, stores, and restaurants in the area.
All in all, we had a good time in Houston, despite record heat. The people were all very friendly, and we had no major issues with accessibility.
If you want more information about Houston's hotels, restaurants, and fun things to do, make sure you check out our Houston destination page when it goes live at the beginning of September. If you'd like to see photos of our travels to Houston, go to our Facebook page.
Next stop.... San Antonio!!!