Yes, Houston is a huge city but I just drove up for the day to see the Space Center and left my dogs in a nearby doggie day camp so this was the only sightseeing I did while there.
I pre-purchased a ticket for a VIP Level 9 Tour as I didn’t really want to do too much walking and I didn’t necessarily want to be surrounded by busses of school children. This is the most expensive in their ticket options. The Houston Space Center is more like a visitor’s center with all the hands-on exhibits, displays, restaurant, gift shops, movies, and mini-demonstrations. Then there is the Johnson Space Center where the employees actually work and which houses Mission Control. The Tickets for the space center and tram tour are $29.95 with discounts for seniors and children. The general admission ticket includes a tram tour of the Johnson Space Center but without the restricted accessibility of the VIP Tour. The lunch with an astronaut, which includes space center admission is $69.95 for adults and $35.95 for children. The Level 9 VIP tour is $179.95 which includes a lunch voucher and entry on a second day. There is an additional $5.00 per car for parking with any type of ticket.
My VIP tour had some missing ticket-holders (they said probably due to flying weather conditions in other parts of the country) so they combined the 10:45 tour with the 11:00 tour and we were still only 10 people plus driver and tour guide. A full VIP Tour would consist of 12 participants. There was very little walking as we had our own private mini-bus with AC so it was pleasant all day. The tour guide showed pictures and video clips on the on-board flat screen TV while we were driving so there was no down time all day. Our tour guide, David, was a man about my age who had grown up nearby, had many interesting stories and knew astronauts and mission control personnel by first name. There were a number of foreign travelers on our tour — a gentleman from Italy, a couple from Japan, a couple from Australia, a couple from the Bahamas, and a couple from Austin. It was a very educational day all around.
I was excited that we got to visit the buildings where the actual work is being done right now regarding robotics, the international space station, and future plans for Mars expeditions. We were only restricted in that we had to stay out of the way of people working and we couldn’t take pictures of faces, name badges, or computers. Even with those restrictions, I was still able to take dozens of photos while on the tour. We started at 11:00, they gave us a half hour for lunch at 1:40 and we concluded at 4:30. We had just a half hour for gift shopping as the winter hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There are more extended hours in the summer months. Luckily, I had toured the Space Center exhibits before the tour began at 11:00 but for people who were staying nearby, the VIP ticket allows you two days’ entrance so you can come back to visit on your own the day after the tour.
Buildings we visited included the Space Vehicle Mock Up Facility; The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and Training Facility; The Christopher C. Kraft Mission Control Center; and a huge outbuilding storing #18 of the 20 Saturn V rockets that were built for the Apollo program.
You can also have your picture taken in the tram/VIP bus area and then pick it up later at lunch time for $22.00. The package includes a cardboard souvenir frame, a “5×8” photo and 4 smaller photos with various “green screen” backgrounds that are space-related.
The cafeteria has numerous lunch options featuring fresh salads and sandwiches, grilled burgers, BBQ, and more. I chose the fried chicken patty sandwich with coleslaw to purchase with my lunch voucher but unfortunately it was very overcooked. However, the service was fast and there are enough options to keep everyone happy. I also purchased with my own money a macha tea latte during our 1/2 hour lunch.
If you choose to visit the Houston Space Center, I would recommend arriving right as they open and purchasing your tickets ahead of time online. Also, if you can avoid holidays and peak visiting times of the year, you are probably better off. For me, the VIP tour was money well spent.