The year 2020 has been far from ordinary, so why not do something equally unexpected this holiday season? New destinations and novel attractions offer ways to break from tradition and try something different.
If the whole family is feeling a bit bah humbug, the new Kalahari Resorts and Conventions Round Rock, immediately north of Austin, is sure to liven things up. The African-themed site, which opened on Nov. 12, encompasses the largest indoor waterpark resort in the United States, spanning 223,000 square feet, plus an adventure park filled with thrilling rides and zip lines, climbing walls, and dedicated areas for mini-golf, bowling, and laser tag. Although the resort includes three sprawling acres of outdoor pools, the indoor options hold the most appeal in winter, with 30 waterslides and 20 different heated pools and whirlpools to explore. COVID safety protocols are in place, including the wearing of masks at all times except when in the water or dining.
Bundle up because additional water sports can be enjoyed outside in Austin proper, where Retro Boat Rentals operates a fleet of midcentury motorboats out of the Waller Creek Boathouse on Lady Bird Lake. The company rents the snazzy vessels for 90-minute cruise, and they are as simple to drive as a golf cart—no previous nautical experience necessary (but you must be at least 21 to rent a boat). There are six different boats to choose from (all made between 1956 and 1960), including a 1958 Glass Slipper model that was one of only 14 produced that year. Although only one of the vessels can accommodate two passengers, the others can hold up to four, and one of those even allows dogs along for the ride.
If you enjoy light shows but have had enough Christmas lights, head to Bee Cave just west of Austin for the inaugural Bee Cave Buzzfest, a free light spectacular presented by the Bee Cave Arts Foundation at Hill Country Galleria. The show runs Dec. 17-19 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and unlike typical holiday light shows, this one takes its inspiration from the glowing creatures of the deep sea. Six interactive displays by national and local artists alike use digital light effects, original music, and even augmented reality to illustrate the theme of “Ocean of Bioluminescence,” with special live performances taking place on the plaza each night at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
You can find more spectacular light installations among important works of art at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which recently opened a three-story, 237,000-square-foot addition to its campus. Designed by internationally acclaimed Steven Holl Architects, the new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building showcases the museum’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art. The museum is known for its luminous color-shifting tunnel by James Turrell, and the new structure comes with two additional tunnels with one-of-a-kind art installations. In one, visitors pass through a sequence of green, red, and blue light-saturated passages, designed by the late Carlos Cruz-Diez. In the other, created by the Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson, unusual light fixtures cast a yellow glow that makes everything appear in black and white, except where two magenta-tinted skylights temporarily interrupt the experience.
Instead of watching yet another holiday classic on TV, take a trip back in time at the Kimbell Art Museum’s special exhibition Queen Nefertari’s Egypt, which opened this month in Fort Worth and runs through March 14, 2021. Nefertari was the favorite wife of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Artifacts on loan from the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy—including intricately carved statues, beaded necklaces, painted coffins, and even a pair of woven sandals—illustrate the life and times of this powerful queen of ancient Egypt and the role of women during the New Kingdom period (1539–1075 BC).
Venture even further back in time at the Jurassic Quest drive-through safari in Katy, west of Houston. Open Dec. 4-20, the show features more than 70 life-size animatronic dinosaurs roaming the parking lot of Katy Mills Mall. This popular touring attraction brings these extinct creatures back to life through incredible details and realistic movements. The experience comes with an audio guide and a free digital souvenir photograph: Why take a picture with Santa when you can take it with a roaring T. rex instead?