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Friday, April 23, 2010

Houston CityPASS: Out-of-this-world Attractions at Bargain Prices



Houston — ZZ Top guitarist Billy F. Gibbons refers to Houston, his hometown, as a city of exotic extremes. In fact, Houston’s remarkable range stretches from the funky — the annual Art Car Parade and the Beer Can House — to the ultra-serious: the monumental contributions made to science by NASA and the Houston Medical Center. In-between lies a hearty mix of barbecue, toe-tapping blues, arts, activities and belly-busting good times.

And with Houston CityPASS, those good times come with a Texas-sized discount. Visitors who use CityPASS experience the city’s biggest attractions for almost half off regular-priced admissions.

Houston CityPASS costs $39 for adults (a value of $74.96) and $29 for kids, 3-11 (a value of $56.72). Inside each Houston CityPASS ticket booklet are discount admission tickets to Space Center Houston (NASA), Downtown Aquarium, Houston Museum of Natural Science and Houston Zoo, as well as a choice between The Health Museum and George Ranch Historical Park, and a second choice between the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and The Children’s Museum of Houston.

Visitors will want to leave plenty of time to explore one of America’s most iconic institutions: Space Center Houston. As the official visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, it is the home of astronauts and Mission Control. It houses actual spacecraft, spacesuits and other artifacts. The guided tram tour is a highlight, providing a behind-the-scenes journey to the Historic (Apollo Era) Mission Control, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility or the current Mission Control Center. Because these are all working facilities, visitors occasionally catch a glimpse of astronauts training for upcoming missions. For a close-up look at several Gemini, Apollo and Mercury spacecraft, visitors shouldn’t miss the Saturn V Complex at the center’s Rocket Park.

With white tigers and tarantulas to go along with sharks and shipwrecks, there’s nothing conventional about a trip to Houston’s Downtown Aquarium. CityPASS users bypass main ticket lines, heading straight into their encounters with red-bellied piranhas, venomous stingrays and gorgeous tropical birds. After touring the many aquarium exhibits, visitors can hop aboard a train that cruises right through the center of a shark-filled tank.

Located in Hermann Park, the Houston Museum of Natural Science assembles a captivating collage of artifacts for young and old. Houston CityPASS holders will come face-to-face with huge dinosaurs, as well as rare gems and spectacular shells, an African ecosystem and the museum’s resident mummy, Ankh-hap. For an extra fee, visitors are encouraged to take a visual journey in the Wortham IMAX Theatre, or interact with more than 1,500 butterflies in the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

On the other side of Hermann Park lies the Houston Zoo and its collection of more than 4,500 animals, including the “world’s cutest animal,” Toby, the red panda. Red pandas have faces like Ewoks and tails like raccoons, live in trees and subsist on bamboo shoots. Zoo-goers also enjoy visiting the on-site Kipp Aquarium, checking out the new jaguar exhibit, splashing through the Water Park, or taking a ride on the Wildlife Carousel. And for those who want to spend their CityPASS savings on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the zoo offers “Cat Training Window” experiences ($100 per person) that allow guests the chance to feed a lion or tiger.

The last two Houston CityPASS tickets provide a choice between four different attractions. One discount ticket gains admission to either The Health Museum (just across the street from Hermann Park) or George Ranch Historical Park (30 miles southwest of downtown Houston).

The Health Museum is an interactive science learning center and a member institution of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center. Visitors to its Amazing Body Pavilion will take a larger-than-life tour of the human body to learn how organs and bones work. Guests can sit on giant teeth, ride a bicycle with a skeleton and walk through a giant brain. Other attractions include the McGovern 4D Theater, where visitors can cringe and revel in a 3D microscopic adventure into the alien landscape of their own skin.

Anyone tired of being a city slicker can take a short drive into the country to see Texas traditions nurtured at George Ranch Historical Park. On this working ranch of cattle and cotton, there are wagon camps, a blacksmith, livestock, weaving, corn grinding and other hands-on activities.

Back in the big city, the second Houston CityPASS option ticket offers a choice between the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, or The Children’s Museum of Houston.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is one of the nation’s premier destinations for art lovers; a home to both centuries-old masterpieces and modern marvels. With nearly 60,000 works of art gathered from nearly every corner of the world, it showcases displays as diverse as 2,500 Years of African Art, Masterworks of European Art, Americana and an expansive sculpture garden.

Kids who are less inclined to wander the art museum will be tickled to tour the recently expanded Children’s Museum of Houston. Here they can build robots in Invention Convention; anchor the news or get elected as mayor of Kidtropolis, USA; take a wet, wild adventure into FlowWorks, and climb a three-story tower in Power Tower.

Houston CityPASS can be purchased online at citypass.com or at any of the CityPASS attractions. It is valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use.

As a premier product for travelers who crave savings, convenience and a well-defined means to discovering a city’s leading attractions, the CityPASS concept showcases the best attractions in North America’s most exciting destinations at an incredible discount. CityPASS ticket booklets are available for New York, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California and Toronto. For more information on CityPASS and its partner cities and attractions, visit citypass.com.
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