It can be a daunting task to saddle up for the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but as Houstonians it's basically our civic duty to go at least once a year. Before heading out, there are some key details you should know, like ticket and parking basics, and it's definitely worth reading over what FREE activities are offered for the kiddos. But there's no better advice and tips than what you'll get from fellow mamas. Read on for 10 tips and tricks from Houston moms who have braved the crowds, pushed the umbrella strollers through those crowds, and dropped more cash than they'd like to admit on fried Oreos. (And moms, if you have tips of your own you'd like to share - drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
1. Pack your own food and drinks. Bring thermoses and snack bags, and if you park close enough, try stepping out to the car for lunch. Of course, we all love some fried Rodeo food goodness, but it can also get incredibly expensive. For larger families, bringing your own food will be key staying on a budget.
2. Bring your own hand sanitizer and wipes. After the pony rides and especially the petting zoo, you'll want to clean off your little one's hands. Although there are hand-washing stations, they can get easily overcrowded, and in our case, half of them stopped working. It's just easier to have your own supplies on hand.
3. There are three nursing rooms in NRG. These areas were new in 2017 thanks to feedback from breastfeeding moms. There is a room upstairs in NRG Center above AGventure, a room in the NRG Arena, and then an outside trailer near Fun in the Farm. We recommend staying in the indoor rooms, as the outdoor trailer wasn't entirely comfortable because of the heat
4. Decide on a rendezvous spot in case the kids get separated. There are various booths and a main station for lost kids, but why not avoid that fiasco altogether. And if you have a particularly crafty child prone to quick escapes, you can always employ the tried-and-true field trip method and pin a name tag to the back of their shirt with your phone number.
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5. Find the paths less-traveled. The AGventure and Junction areas can get pretty crowded, and if your kiddo needs a break from the masses but still needs entertainment, in the main shopping area inside there are trucks and tractors on display that you can climb into. They are usually vacant and are objects of fascination to most little ones.
6. Look inside for food. Although the food vendors outside underneath the tents have most of the notorious rodeo food, including deep-fried anything, there are a few concession options inside the AGventure and shopping areas that are much less crowded. There is even a Chik-fil-A!
7. Go to the outdoor petting zoo. The petting zoo is one of the most popular stops for young children, and the petting zoo inside AGventure can get extremely crowded with long lines. If you head outside into The Junction, there is a second petting zoo near Fun on the Farm that is much less crowded and gives you some breathing room. Also, the two pony ride stations are right next to each petting zoo (this cost $7, but you can swipe a card or use cash - no tickets needed).
8. Know what your younger kids can, and cannot, do. If you're planning on attending with young kids, as in younger than 5 years old, know that most of the carnival rides in the kids' area are aimed at riders taller than 42 inches (including the Ferris Wheel), but some attractions allow riders 32-inches-tall. The best activities for toddlers are Fun on the Farm - where the kids even get a free snack, the petting zoos, and the indoor exhibits in AGventure.
9. Arrive early. This may be a given, but if you are planning on going when school is in session, especially on Value Wednesdays, expect to see a lot of field trip groups. And the earlier you arrive, the fast you can get the more popular exhibits out of the way (like Fun on the Farm). Most groups will arrive around 10 a.m.
10. Park smart. Have a game plan of where you want to park before you leave. We've had the most success parking in the yellow and brown lots and taking the shuttle over to the center. The brown lot is across Loop 610 and costs $15, but the pink line tram, after a quick transfer to the yellow line, takes you straight to The Junction, which is the kid's carnival. However, the pink line does not start operating until 10 a.m., which puts a damper on a plan of arriving extra early.
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Photo courtesy of Sweet Pecks Photography