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“Wow!!”

McDonald Observatory
Ranked #1 of 12 things to do in Fort Davis
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 2-3 hours
Owner description: The McDonald Observatory Visitors Center staff appreciate all of the positive reviews (and even some of the negative ones, too!) that well-meaning and well-intentioned visitors have left over the years. However, we feel that TripAdvisor does not provide anywhere close to the level of management tools needed to combat the misinformation that routinely is provided by, again, well-intentioned visitors to others visiting its pages. With no way other than the "management response" feature to cull and corral the sometimes wildly misleading information posted on these pages, we feel that using TripAdvisor for anything beyond getting the general feel of the establishment is pointless.
Useful Information: Activities for older children, Wheelchair access, Food available for purchase
Reviewed August 17, 2013

This is a fabulous place. We signed up for all the tours. Highly educational, exciting, and time well spent. Do not miss the nightly "Star Party." You will never see skies, stars, planets, meteors, or satellites as you will from this mountaintop. This is a must stop.

Thank philosopher43
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
McDonald_Obs, Manager at McDonald Observatory, responded to this reviewResponded August 19, 2013

Thanks for the praise but, just to clear up a misconception, the Star Parties are NOT nightly. We offer the Star Parties every Tuesday, Friday, & Saturday evening throughout the year. The only exception to that is if Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, or New Year's Day happens to fall on one of those days. Typically, in that event, we'll offer a substitute "make up" Star Party on a different night.

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788 - 792 of 1,040 reviews

Reviewed August 15, 2013

So if you want to do a star party, which is all I can speak to, you have to book way in advance, as they book solid. SO I did this and it mentions no cancellations or refunds that they'll have engaging activities to replace seeing things in the night sky via the giant telescopes. You're gambling with the weather and of course, we lost. We went anyhow as mentioned, with our 3yo and 5yo in tow expecting to see the stars. They were really excited. Needless to say, because of clouds it was a huge flop and I would not consider an hour lecture using night sky software engaging, even for interested adults. My husband was looking at me like "really?" the whole time we sat in this crowded lecture hall listening to a college level, maybe even graduate level, lecture on stars and astronomy. Our girls were really good, but as soon as they took a break we left. Next time, we'll visit during the day. :)

Thank Katie S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
McDonald_Obs, Manager at McDonald Observatory, responded to this reviewResponded August 17, 2013

Just to clear up a couple of points .. reservations for the Star Parties are NOT required although we do strongly encourage them. The Star Parties do not sell out but to get discounted passes and to receive group discounts, passes need to be purchased online more than twelve hours in advance. If the discounts are not important to you, you're most welcome to purchase your passes at the Information Desk at the time of the program. If you're worried about possible weather issues, don't purchase your passes until you see what the weather may be for that evening. If the weather that evening is really looking dicey, you can even purchase your passes after we've discussed at the program Introduction what we think the weather may be for the night.

Additionally (although we only recently started making these available) we do offer rain (cloud) checks on nights when we believe there's a reasonable chance that we will not be able to do any significant amount of viewing of the night sky. These are given to guests who decide, after the Introduction, that the program offerings for the evening are not a reasonable substitute for a normal program. Rain checks are only offered at the Center's discretion and only to those visitors who decide they will not be joining any of the cloudy-night program (i.e., no such thing as participating in the cloudy-night program as offered for the night and THEN deciding to get a rain check).

As to the statement that we offered a college or even graduate-level lecture .. most of the Center's staff are not professional astronomers (i.e., graduate-level educated scientists) so it would be difficult for us to offer a graduate-level lecture. The staff's background is diverse with various levels of education and previous interest and experience in astronomy. While we try not to aim too far over the heads of our visitors, we also try not to dumb things down too much either. Keep in mind that our visitors also have many different levels of knowledge and experience. Keeping everyone fully engaged 100% of the time is likely impossible. The fact that we have some folks, like you, telling us that our programs are too high-level while others tell us that they're aimed too low tells me that we're probably shooting at just about the right level for most folks.

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Reviewed August 15, 2013

The "Star Party" at the observatory is a wonderful experience. The presenter for the "tour of the night sky" portion, Frank, was engaging and relaxed. Afterwards, when we doing telescope viewing, he was approachable and ready to answer any question that came his way. I don't recommend bringing young children because this program does not start until 9:30 p.m. and ends close to midnight. For everyone else, though, it's a great experience.

1  Thank DFrazee
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
McDonald_Obs, Manager at McDonald Observatory, responded to this reviewResponded August 17, 2013

Thanks for the compliments!

Just to note .. Star Party start times vary with the seasons and with time changes from as late as 9:45p in June & July to as early as 7:00p from the beginning of Standard Time (in '13, Nov 3rd) through the end of January. Please check our web pages for more information on program start times and how to get the most out of your visit.

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Reviewed August 15, 2013

As someone who works at the Johnson Manned Spaceflight Center, there are times when one becomes detached from the universe, mainly because of all the light pollution here in Houston. One trip to the McDonald Observatory really reconnected me with the work I do. Just being able to see the night sky with all its wonders is reason enough to travel any distance to see what the Observatory has to offer. We did not stay at the lodge there this time but probably will the next time we go. There are daytime programs and twilight programs but the (pardon the pun) "star" of the show was the Stargazing Party and the amazing lecture provided by one of the resident astronomers. Others have written better reviews than this and I encourage you to read them all. The bottom line is that this has to be on anyone's Bucket List.

1  Thank Robert H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
McDonald_Obs, Manager at McDonald Observatory, responded to this reviewResponded August 17, 2013

Many thanks for the high praise, especially coming from someone who works at the JSC!

Just to mention, though .. staying at the Astronomers Lodge requires one of two things: either a membership in our Friends of McDonald Observatory program (more info on that in "Support" section of our website) or participation in one of our frequent Special Viewing Night programs on the 36-inch, 82-inch, or 107-inch Telescopes (see the Special Viewing Night pages in the "Visit" section of our website). The Astronomers Lodge is not available to those participating in our regular programs (guided tours, solar viewings, twilight programs, and star parties) only. Additionally, as the Astronomers Lodge is, as the name suggests, primarily for the use of our research astronomers, certain other restrictions do apply.

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Reviewed August 10, 2013

One visit to an evening star party and you'll wonder why we've been so callous with our night light pollution. The unblemished night sky is a sight to behold. The milky way looks as if it was painted across the sky with a roller brush. The Star Party begins with everyone gathered in an outdoor amphitheater as one of the astronomers points out many facts and features about the night sky. Ours did so with a great balance of knowledge and dry wit, which made the experience even more fun. You'll see a meteor every few minutes in the dark night sky.

Then there are a several telescopes set up for you to view various objects in the sky. Saturn's rings were prominent through one - and you could even see two of Saturn's largest moons.

There are also excellent programs during the day (the solar viewing is one) and a number of educational displays. They also offer tours of some of the large telescopes.

It's too bad we have to drive so far to enjoy the night sky, but I'm glad this area of west Texas has preserved the darkness for us all.

Thank pier2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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