In early August, we took advantage of a free community outreach program sponsored by the Houston Port Authority. The Port Authority offers FREE TOURS of the Houston Ship Channel. The day of our tour was a bit warm, so if you go, I recommend fall or spring -- it was pleasant enough on the water, but I think the heat contributed to us tiring out a little sooner than we had planned.
The channel itself is not terribly wide and is only a few hours sailing time from the Gulf of Mexico. The port is currently the busiest in the United States when it comes to foreign tonnage. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the trip is seeing these mammoth ships at such close range -- ships that hail from around the globe.
We saw ships from Hong Kong, Panama, and Denmark, and even huge military cargo ships from Norfolk, Virginia. The most impressive aspect of the tour is riding in a fairly small boat (which seats about 90 people) down the narrow channel and coming face to face with these towering vessels. The whole experience makes you feel quite small. It's great for kids interested in engineering, science, or for those smaller children fascinated with moving parts. We saw cranes, an oil refinery, lots of cargo and of course, a tugboat!
Other than the heat (which is honestly not a huge factor since the inside cabin is air conditioned), the only other downside may be smelling the exhaust from the ships. Remember, this is close range, and there is definitely the presence of some fuel here.
The tour is 90-minutes in length, which is very generous, in fact, it might be ever so slightly too long. After about an hour the scenery becomes fairly repetitive. At the 45-minute mark, the ship turns around and heads back the way it came. Switch sides of the boat from time to time so you can see the opposite view. It also keeps little ones moving and more engaged in the trip.
Even though my kids might say the best part of the tour was the free mini-soda at the turn-around point, I think the trip out to the Ship Channel is worth the effort, and you can't beat free, can you? Reservations must be made 24-hours in advance and tours run Wednesday through Saturday at 10am and 2:30pm, and at 2:30pm on Sundays. There are no tours on Monday and Tuesday. The vessel is dry docked throughout the month of November for routine maintenance, otherwise the tours run 11 months of the year. If you're in the Houston area or plan to be visiting, get out there this fall while the weather is great!
Our next post will be a review of the Star of the Republic Museum in Washington-on-the Brazos State Park. Get out there and explore your backyard -- you never know what you'll find!