In Title: Enjoy west end beaches at Galveston year-round. Karen Gibson photo
Above: Moody Gardens is a favorite tourist stop. Galveston Island CVB photo
Below: Bishop’s Palace is part of the East End Historical District. It was built from 1886–1892 and is open for tours. Karen Gibson photo
Today, the pull of Galveston continues to be strong. This Gulf Coast port city is the child who insists on maintaining its own identity from other Texas cities. The result is a 32-mile-long barrier reef island with one of the largest historical districts in the U.S., AAA-rated lodgings and restaurants, non-stop attractions, shopping, and a major starting point for Caribbean cruises.
Cruising for sun and fun
As one of the oldest U.S. ports, Galveston has experience as a port of entry for immigrants, military operations and shipping. In recent years, Galveston also has added cruise ship port to its list of accomplishments. The Texas Cruise Ship Terminal is homeport for Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line.
Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas offers weeklong western Caribbean cruises from December through April of each year. Ports of call include Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Honduras; Jamaica; and Grand Cayman. Staying behind on the ship is no problem for those who enjoy the ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall and other recreation. Voyager of the Seas also offers spacious staterooms for its 3,114 guests.
Carnival offers cruises onboard its Ecstasy, providing popular four- and five-day cruises along Mexico’s coast. Las Vegas has nothing on the Ecstasy with its casinos, dancing, shows and clubs. When it’s time to relax in your stateroom, you’ll find a television showing first-run movies.
To extend your family cruise, try the Carnival Conquest that alternates western (Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Mexico) and eastern Caribbean (Bahamas and Key West) weeklong cruises.
Cruise parking is available starting at $45 to $50 for a four- or five-day cruise. Parking for longer cruises or spaces adjacent to the cruise terminal is more expensive, but you can find cheaper parking a few blocks away that offers shuttles.
If you’re taking a cruise from Galveston, consider coming early to take advantage of all that the city has to offer. Museums, galleries, boutiques and shops are all within walking distance from the terminal. Some offer special discounts for cruise customers, so keep your paperwork with you.
Only one block from the cruise ship terminal is the 36-block historical Strand District, one of four historical districts in Galveston. Named after a street in London, The Strand once was known as the “Wall Street of the Southwest.” It is one of the largest historical areas in the country to feature Victorian and iron-front commercial architecture. You’ll also find more than 100 shops offering curio stores, trendy stops and artsy fun.
When you’re at the ocean, you expect great fresh seafood, and Galveston is no exception. Near the terminal, Fisherman’s Wharf on Pier 22 (AAA two Diamond) may not offer an original name, but it’s a relaxing restaurant with good seafood. On nice days, ask to sit outside where you can watch boats come and go or feast your eyes on the three-masted, iron-hulled tall ship, the ELISSA, part of the Texas Seaport Museum that’s next door.
If you’re in the mood for something different, you’ll find fusion restaurants, barbeque and some of the best Tex-Mex in Texas. The Original Mexican Café (AAA Two Diamond) on Market Street serves Tex-Mex that’s delicious and healthy. Luigi’s Ristorante Italiano, located in an 1895 bank building on Strand Street, serves Italian cuisine. The capellini topped with stuffed shrimp is a popular choice. Rudy & Paco on Postoffice Street combines the best of seafood with South American cuisine. For the perfect end to the perfect day, how about a ride in a horse-drawn carriage around The Strand at dusk?
There’s no shortage of lodging in Galveston, from beach house rentals to bed-and-breakfast inns to luxury hotels. Lodging choices located near the cruise terminal are many. Several offer shuttles to the ships. The AAA four Diamond San Luis Resort Spa and Conference Center on Seawall Boulevard offers some expert pampering before or after any cruise.
The AAA three Diamond Tremont House on Ship’s Mechanic Row is an equally elegant European-style hotel boasting 19th-century appeal with original interior brick walls, hardwood floors and soaring windows adorned with elegant draperies. Brass beds and marble bathrooms with towel warming racks provide top-notch luxury.
If you prefer a convenient location at a more modest price, the Red Carpet Inn at Ferry Landing might be the ticket. For a harbor view, try the Harbor House at Pier 21 (AAA three Diamond). Once a waterfront warehouse, the Harbor House is now a 42-room inn with nine slips for guests who prefer to sail or boat to the hotel.
The rest of Galveston Island
The East End Historical District is home to Galveston’s earliest mansions and open to the public. Bishop’s Palace, Moody Mansion Museum and 1859 Ashton Villa are the must-see trio. Galveston’s grandest and best-known building, Bishop’s Palace, is an ornate delight of colored stone, intricately carved ornaments, rare woods, stained-glass windows, bronze dragons and other sculptures, luxurious materials and furnishings, and impressive fireplaces from around the world. During the Historical Homes Tour in the first two weekends of May, additional private homes are open to the public.
Galveston is more than history. Miles of beaches draw travelers to the shores as well, and with mild temperatures, you’ll find people on the West End beaches year-round. Harbor tours are another option at the ocean; be sure to keep your eyes open for dolphins.
A great way to enjoy Galveston is by bicycle. The Island Bicycle Company on Seawall Boulevard rents bicycles to the public for self-guided or guided tours starting at $7 an hour.
Cruise passengers can extend their island experience at Moody Gardens, a tropical destination that is a Galveston landmark. Don’t miss the Rainforest Pyramid here.
If your cruise or visit to Galveston happens to fall in early December, you’re in for a treat as The Strand is turned into a Dicken’s Christmas in its annual Dickens on The Strand celebration. Queen Victoria kicks the season into gear by leading a parade. The beautiful Festival of Lights will be at Moody Gardens starting in mid-November.
As a convenient Southern cruise port or a nearby getaway, travelers have many options in Galveston.
Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.
Dickens on The Strand characters Galveston Island CVB photo
A good time to visit Galveston is during the annual Dickens on The Strand holiday event, which will be Dec. 5 and 6 this year. With The Strand National Historic Landmark District as a backdrop, costumed Victorian performers and vendors will bring a bit of the British Empire to Texas. The event is sponsored by the Galveston Historical Foundation. For more information, call the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.