Over the weekend I got a wild hair and decided I was daring enough to brave the Houston Children’s Festival with both of my children, without my working husband. I took Harper 2 years ago, before Hudson was around, so we kinda knew what to expect from the festival, but when you take an 8 month old out of the house you will never be adequately prepared. I tried to convince my sister (and consequently her husband) to come in hopes that there would be more adults to help prevent lost children, and then so her kids could you know, have fun too and all that. Sadly, she declined, citing some nonsense about how my niece wasn’t old enough to thoroughly enjoy it or something. So I decided to go alone.. with my children of course. I was certain it would end in some epic failure, but guys, I underestimated my super mom powers. So here is my advice because I am now clearly a festival expert.
First of all, don’t buy your tickets at the door. Don’t even buy them from the festival website. Get the Groupon. Tickets were $14 but the Groupon was for $8. Under 3 is free. Don’t think you aren’t still about to drop a ton of money, but at least I saved a few dollars.
Our day started early, and by early I mean we were parking the car at 10am (this is seriously early for me to have had everyone ready and out the door. We are never on time). Gates opened at 10:30am. The best place to park, in my opinion, is in the Hobby Center garage. It wasn’t cheap ($20) but it is covered and it is close. Both times we kinda made a big circle through the festival. We started at Tranquility Park, worked our way over to City Hall, down to Sam Houston Park, and then exited at Walker and Bagby. This spot is an exit only but if you park at the Hobby Center you are right there which is pretty important when you have tired kids (and possibly grumpy parents).
Once you’re through the gates don’t do anything until you have done these things:
- Tag your kids. There are people all over the entrances with stickers and sharpies to let you put your name and phone number on your kid in case you get separated. I also chose this time to terrify my child once again with reminding her that there are sometimes bad people who steal kids, and even worse, that we will leave immediately if she does not stay with me.
- Buy wrist bands and additional tickets. Rides and activities as well as food are all paid for with tickets. The wrist band was $30 (I bought one for Harper, no need for one for me or the baby) and she got unlimited rides and bounce houses, etc. Just trust me. Buy the wrist band. The first time we went I just bought a few tickets thinking she didn’t need to do everything anyway, then ended up going back, and then the third time I got smart and bought the band. Each ride is at least 3 tickets. $30 for the band is a lot but it really is cheaper than buying tickets for each ride and I didn’t come to torture her by walking past a bunch of rides she can’t ride. She did a lot of them multiple times. Like multiples of multiple times. We got waaay more than $30 worth out of that band. The only thing is that you can’t buy food with a band or we might have abused that perk too. So we had to buy tickets just for food. Since you’re already getting the band first thing, save yourself the hassle get tickets too. Up to maybe 10 tickets per person. I already warned you you’re about to drop a ton of money, right?
- Next, get their faces painted. This is one of the few things you have to pay for separately because they don’t take tickets, but you want them to get your money’s worth out of it so do it first thing so they have all day to enjoy that unicorn or Ninja Turtle mask. Plus the lines get longer the later you wait. Also know that there are several face painting booths. If you got there at opening, you have the pick of the litter so check out their samples and pick your favorite. We went to the booth on Walker, near the corner of Bagby. The one we went to last time was good, but this one was our favorite by far!
- Then do the rides. Do anything that will have a line later. Early in the day they can ride, bounce, throw, climb and slide to their heart’s content and you don’t have to deal with cranky kids while you wait in line. You’re welcome.
I’m not sure how we pulled it off but we opened this thing, and we shut it down too. I came assuming we would stay until Hudson needed a nap because he generally doesn’t sleep in the stroller. But he ended up sleeping for a good while, and Harper was unusually pleasant so I didn’t even have to threaten to leave once.
I realize this is not what normal people do, but there are a few things you can’t miss no matter how long you stay:
- The McDonald’s Area. This is where most of the action is at. I mean, it is the “McDonald’s Houston Children’s Festival.” They have a ton of free things like bounce house type stuff, and my favorite, French fries and smoothies (insert lip licking emoji here). You also have to take your picture with Ronald and his friends in front of his giant shoe-mobile. But do kids even know who the Hamburglar is anymore? Doesn’t matter. There are lots of stages throughout the festival but the McDonald’s one is probably one of the most popular because it seems to have something going on constantly. This is also the stage where you’ll see whatever celebrity guest is coming.
- Speaking of stages, both times we’ve come that was one of the highlights for Harper and me: dancing on the stage. Harper. Not me. Mama can’t sing but she really can’t dance. I would bet they all have times where they let the kids come up on stage to dance around but I know the 2 stages in the Sam Houston Park area do it for sure. Obviously they can dance around wherever they want but to do it on a stage is like a dream come true. There may have been a zillion kids on that stage but Harper thought she owned that show.
- This has absolutely nothing to do with the festival, but on the far (west-ish) side of Sam Houston Park there are some crazy old oak trees with the branches that come all the way to the ground. The trees themselves are sort of enchanting because I mean, the branches come all the way to the ground! But they also make for some great climbing and Harper has been all about climbing trees lately. She thought she was big stuff when she climbed one branch from the ground up to the trunk. So what if Mommy is only 5’ and I just reached up and got her down from there? She. Climbed. A tree.
Other tips from yours truly:
- Scope out the lunch places early as you’re walking by doing other things. That way you’ve already decided what you want and you aren’t wandering hangrily trying to decide what is worth the amount you have already paid in tickets. Once you get your food, park it by the reflection pool in front of city hall. We watched the circus show while we ate lunch, and then it was a good open area for Harper to play and stay entertained while I nursed the baby.
- They may not let you bring in outside food and drinks, but they will let you bring in baby food. Take that information and do with it what you wish.
- For whatever reason, we found the best, least used, and therefore cleanest port-a-potties on McKinney right behind the McDonald’s stage. They also had a diaper changing station which was really just tables for you to lay your baby on, but it was better than trying to do it elsewhere. I would suggest bringing a disposable changing table cover. Of course, if you’ve just had your older kid in a port-a-potty then does it really matter? Here they give out small hand sanitizer bottles that we might have practically bathed in. I may be a bit of a germ-o-phobe but it was nice that these areas (and the sanitizer) were provided.
- Also, if you happen to be using the port-a-potty, keep your eyes open. We saw Anthony Gonzalez (voice of Miguel in “Coco”) being brought in on a golf cart to the back of the McDonald’s stage. Another family took a picture with him but to be honest I didn’t know who he was until he came up on stage. Oops. Next year I’ll do a little more research on what celebrity is going to be there and maybe we’ll stalk them while we take our potty break. Ha!
- One more thing: they give out a TON of free crap. It is all crap. At first I resisted, telling her that we didn’t need any of that junk, but then I realized just getting all this crap was part of the fun for her. And it is guaranteed that your kid will want all of it. You might look at a couple things, like I didn’t realize the science museum does birthdays, but over the course of a couple days it all slowly disappeared after bedtime. So let them collect the crap. But you know, recycle.