Once you enter the Tropical Storm, everything goes dark. You blindly whip around inside the watery tunnel before being unexpectedly plunged into a pool of water—and you probably want to do it again. The Tropical Storm is one of eight water slides at Splashway Waterpark, a seasonal outdoor playground that boasts water-fueled attractions for toddlers, older kids, and adults. Sometimes the rides relax, as when visitors drift down the lazy river on waterproof water beds, but sometimes they raise pulses instead, as on the nearly straight drop of Pirate's Plunge.
From May to September visitors can enjoy the park's attractions, which were designed to entertain families with kids of any age. When energy wanes, an onsite café piles plates with all-American fare such as burgers and hot dogs. The truly exhausted can turn in for the night at the park's RV and tent camp.
Not too many people get to make a career out of their childhood dreams. Needville Horseback Riding's head instructor Jacqueline, however, is one person who can say she did. After riding and showing as a little girl, she decided to pursue horsemanship further in college and into adulthood, earning herself a certification from the American Riding Instructors Association and the right to fulfill her equestrian dream each day.
Today, she empowers others to pursue similar dreams by conducting horseback riding lessons in the disciplines of hunter, jumper, and dressage for riders of all ages. Lessons take place year-round rain or shine, and can be tailored to each rider regardless of whether their goals include competing in shows, riding for pleasure, or taking over the carpool lane with horse traffic. Jacqueline also welcomes casual horseback riders to participate in equine action through birthday parties and youth camps.
George Ranch Historical Park, only half an hour southwest of Houston, is more than a representation of Texas history—it’s the hundred-year story of a ranching family who lived their lives on the park’s very soil. The attractions tell their story, beginning with the Jones Stock Farm—a cattle operation circa 1830—where interpreters demonstrate old-fashioned skills amidst a traditional dog-trot log cabin. The Ryon Prairie Home unveils an 1860s image of a Texas Ranch home in the golden age of the cattle drive, and the Davis Mansion contains artifacts from Victorian-era Texas enjoyed by the wealthiest citizens of the 1890s. The final site, the George Ranch Complex, demonstrates ranching life as it happened in the 1930s, including barn structures and daily cattle demonstrations. Guides show off each building and era with historic tours, demonstrations, and living history exhibits such as a working blacksmith shop.
The park’s directors breathe life back into this history with interactive events, as well. They also schedule an array of yearly events such as military reenactments, and holiday-themed history lessons.
Aromas of grilled Black Angus burgers waft through All Stars Family Grill, where play spaces for toddlers to 12-year-olds are as much of an attraction as the hearty American fare. Entrees, sandwiches, and kid-size meals appear at the pickup counter with complimentary soft-serve ice cream, which incentivizes alfresco dining at picnic benches on the large, concrete patios. A pair of playgrounds, one designed for toddlers and the other for ages 5–12, entertains kids with slides, tunnels, and an accountant offering tax advice. Inside, wooden tables sprawl out under a checkerboard ceiling, which also decorates three private rooms ready to party with 50-inch plasma high-definition TVs and AV equipment. An arcade buzzes with games including Madden and Target Terror, and flat-screen TVs sprinkled throughout the restaurant display sports or breaking news on cartoon cancellations.
Stomping Grounds Playland is many things at once. Part play center, coffee bar, and restaurant, its target demographic spans generations, all of whom should find plenty to do within its 2,000-square-foot facility. A play structure delights kids with obstacles and colorful tunnels, and an expanded toddler area keeps the youngest visitors occupied. To fuel this fun, the onsite Brewster's Café serves up kid favorites such as hot dogs and mac and cheese.
However, the café has even more options for adults—not to mention a dining area with free WiFi. Baristas pour cappuccino, organic chai tea, and specialty espresso drinks such as white-chocolate mochas. These caffeinated treats complement an array of signature sandwiches and salads. Stomping Grounds Playland also caters to parents with comprehensive party packages; party planners take care of everything, including food, activities, and all the paperwork required to receive a birthday wish.
The Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center conceals a chilly oasis for winter-sports fans to practice and have fun all year long, whether it's the day after Christmas or a steamy 100-degree afternoon in July. Between its two rinks, the center hosts staff-supervised public-skating sessions nearly every day in addition to a wide range of youth and adult hockey events—including practices for the former AHL champion Houston Aeros. Inside Rink A, a spacious seating area and café invites visitors to break from their icy escapades and reenergize with a snack. Also away from the ice, the onsite pro shop sharpens blades and repairs skates so clients can carve their way across rinks and the halls of imposing ice castles.