Endangered Asian arowana flash lustrous orange and green scales; a Victorian crowned pigeon shakes its cerulean tufts and spreads its turquoise wings; 16-inch fairy penguins waddle across a forest floor. And that’s all before you hit the admissions booth. The Dallas World Aquarium’s Borneo exhibit greets guests to the zoo and aquarium with a preview of the colorful, exotic wildlife that await them inside. But the animals aren’t just there for visitors’ entertainment—the aquarium plays a large role in conservation efforts not just in the U.S., but around the world, and yhe majority of its residents are endangered or threatened in the wild. Once inside, guests explore each critter’s natural habitat as they delve into exhibits that emulate different global regions, much like the control centers run by evil TV weathermen. The eight-story Mundo Maya’s 400,000-gallon Cenote river teems with sharks, rays, and sea turtles indigenous to the Yucatan Peninsula. In the Orinico exhibit, crocodiles and red-bellied piranhas form a menacing welcoming committee in the water, but residents of the sloth forest remain unconcerned, moseying lazily from branch to branch.
Outside in a mock South Africa habitat aptly named tomato frogs, squat and orange like their namesake, hop around a flourishing botanical garden, alongside Madagascan big-headed turtles and black-footed penguins. And in the aquarium, a 20,000 gallon walk-through tunnel lets guests get up close and personal with hundreds of Indo-Pacific fishes and sea critters, including the blue-dot stingray—named for the blue specks scattered across its yellow coat.
Though the Austin Aquarium spans a mere 22,000 square feet, its exhibits encompass marine habitats from around the world, housing more than 3,000 species from Oregon to Indonesia in its tanks, aquariums, and aviaries. Among the activities, visitors can feel the skin of rays, hear the barks of fur seals from Uruguay, or tempt birds or younger siblings with handfuls of seed. One of the biggest enclosures houses several Asian small-clawed otters, who tumble, play, and swim with their peers in one of the largest colonies in captivity in the world. The aquarium also hosts behind-the-scenes tours and sleepovers in which kids can get a glimpse into the ocean at night, when even the mightiest sharks cower in fear from plankton's elongated shadows.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center gives kids a little round-headed person's view of the world, surrounding them with blown-up versions of normally miniature plastic environments. At six locations across North America, children ages 3 and older—and their adults—drive all-terrain buggies through a Lego forest in hot pursuit of bank robbers, travel through a dungeon blasting skeletons with laser guns, and build and test their own race cars on a colorful track. At every location, visitors can enter the 4D Cinema, where 3D Lego films are enhanced with in-theater weather effects such as wind and snow. They can also look out over Lego-brick recreations of the local city that feature scale models of landmarks such as Chicago's Navy Pier.
An exploration of the bright world of plastic bricks doesn't have to end at the attractions. To continue the fun at home, shops at each location house hundreds of current Lego sets.
To celebrate SeaWorld's 50th anniversary, SeaWorld San Antonio is unveiling what they're calling a "Sea of Surprises." Here's what's in store:
Run by Texas State University, The Meadows Center introduces visitors to the lush diversity of the San Marcos Springs and intricate system of waterways. Glass-bottomed boats set out for guided tours of Spring Lake, gazing at the aquatic life and University midterm papers below. Above the springs that bubble up from the bottom, soft shell turtles and bluegill sunfish swim in the clear waters and songbirds survey the sky. Eight endangered species populate the springs, including beetles and two species of salamander. On land, visitors can explore gardens of native Texan plants or a hall of nature exhibit.
Perched on picturesque Galveston Island, Moody Gardens possesses a storied history that complements its scenic surroundings. Its horticultural and animal-therapy programs—which began in the mid-1980s—pair visitors living with physical and emotional disabilities with horses and multihued flora, helping them learn coping skills and build confidence. Next to the sprawling grounds, the Moody Gardens Golf Course boasts multiple holes that run alongside the rippling waters of the Gulf and its intervening waterways, forming intimidating hazards and housing a thriving civilization of merpeople who use golf balls for currency. The tourist destination also thrills families with water attractions, including a wave pool and a lazy river. The restored 10-story Rainforest Pyramid holds more than 1,700 exotic plants and animals from Asian, African, and American rainforests, while the Aquarium Pyramid features a diverse range of ocean inhabitants including sharks and penguins.