Friday, February 2, 2018

Glass Bottom Boats

 blue and white glass bottom boat on a lake
We debated about taking in this classic "cruise". Glass bottom boat? It just sounded very “tourist trappish”.

We were wrong. Sort of. It is not a tourist trap, although...

Once upon a time, this was a major tourist attraction site called “Aquarena” complete with rides, swimming pigs, mermaids and glass bottom boats. San Marcos still celebrates the mermaid tie-in.
Aquarena was, in its day, the largest tourist attraction in Texas…..until Six Flags and other large parks began to appear. It closed in the 1990’s.

old 1920's hotel converted to college classrooms and aquarium space
But now it’s part of Texas State University, and is called The Meadows Center. Some of the work being done now is wetland restoration, archaeology, education, etc…. And the boats help introduce the public to the underwater world that creates the headwaters of the San Marcos River.

The glass bottom boats are left from the Aquarena’s hey-days. The one we rode in was built in 1945 and has been on Springs Lake ever since. They have electric motors and are in beautiful condition.

scuba diving research photographer taking photos
One of the joys of traveling in the “off-season” …. we had the whole boat to ourselves, and it was fascinating. The water was incredibly clear and we saw just a few of the 1000+ springs that makeup the headwaters. One looked like a snowglobe, the way it tumbled the lightweight mineral particles, and the officially named San Marcos Springs are a large underwater field of bubbling pots that look like something out of Yellowstone or cooking Cream of Wheat.

Yes, we saw fish, plants, and even scuba divers. A couple of researchers that were working underwater.

a view of the bottom of a freshwater lake from inside a glass bottom boat
The main building was once a hotel and now houses some aquarium exhibits….and is free!

There are also a series of trails and a wetlands boardwalk that is very nice.

It proved to be a very fun, and quite reasonable, thing to do and we learned a few things too.

Tips if you go:

Go to the San Marcos Visitor Center ad pick up the rack card for the Glass Bottom Boats. It has a $1 off coupon and they honor that on all ticket prices. By the way, the boat tour is reasonably priced already.

glass bottom boat sailing by the shoreline
Pack a lunch. There are several picnic tables there.

There is plenty of parking, and if you go on Saturday and Sunday, it’s free. Mon-Fri it’s $3. That was the first pleasant surprise for us. We expected to have to pay for parking. (The other was they took the $1 coupon off the Senior ticket price…. many places only take it off the regular admission price)

I suggest visiting the aquarium before taking the boat ride.

We took the 30-minute tour. While it was very nice, it sure left us wanting more. Next time we’re there, we’ll do the longer trip.

All in all, we ended up spending a very delightful day there and highly recommend it! You can learn more about the Meadows Center and the Glass Bottom Boats at

interior view of glass bottom boat with seats on each side and underwater view panel in the center
Our glass bottom boat
fish swimming underwater near some underwater springs
A fish swims near a small section of the San Marcos Springs
They are the roundish, light colored areas in the upper left

large turtle on a tree log
Not everything is underwater

A grebe. Nicknamed the snake bird because all you see is
neck up when they are swimming.

Guess who saw me taking his/her picture? Turnabout is fair play.

abandoned park buildings
Some of the remains of the old Aquarena complex. Our guide
thought it was a dining area

glass bottom boat sailing past some palm trees
The boat we rode on

fresh water fish in an aquarium
This fellow lives in the aquarium

hawk sitting on the ground
He caught something

hawk sitting on a  tree limb
Nice pose!

large white water bird fishing for food
A successful fisherman! And yes, I love the reflection