A vacation that combines a cruise with time to
explore Galveston is sure to float your boat.
As you stroll Victorian-era streets lined with colorful art galleries, boutiques, museums, and restaurants, you might think you have just stepped into an Edith Wharton novel. Lucky for you, you’re simply strolling The Historic Downtown Strand Seaport District in Galveston, Texas.
Above: Bishop’s Palace is part of a Galveston Island Tour. Keith Hajovsky
Below: Carnival Cruise Line sails from Galveston year-round. Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
Galveston’s proximity to Gulf of Mexico beaches makes it a desirable coastal getaway. The Strand’s 70 historical blocks make an elegant and vibrant downtown. This is the perfect place to set off for a cruise – Mexico’s Riviera Maya is reached in one-day of sailing across the Gulf, and pre- and post-cruise attractions available at Galveston Island are nearly endless. The city is so easy to fall in love with that you might find yourself wishing you had added more days here.
Arriving in Galveston
Flights arrive in Houston, about an hour’s drive from the island, but for west Louisiana or east Texas residents, driving to the Port of Galveston is a great option. It’s about a three-hour drive from Lake Charles, La., to Galveston Island. Come in early enough to see some of the sights.
Take in the highlights with Galveston Island Tours that uses electric shuttles to show guests around the entire downtown Historic Landmark District. Guides fill you in on the storied history behind the grand mansions and influential families whose wealth built the city at the turn of the 20th century.
Get a glimpse into their lives by touring Moody Mansion or Bishop’s Palace. W.L. Moody Jr., one of Galveston’s richest men, built the 28,000-square-foot home for his family in 1895. It has been meticulously restored to its original splendor. The 1892 Bishop’s Palace was built of stone and steel for wealthy attorney and politician, Walter Gresham, and his family. Both homes are open daily for tours.
Travelers looking for accommodations in Galveston have as many choices as Fisherman’s Wharf has shrimp dishes. While the hotel buffet is plentiful, you might consider looking at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Galveston Beach that opened in February 2015. Ideally located on Seawall Boulevard, overlooking the beach and the Gulf of Mexico, it’s a short walk to the Historic Pleasure Pier attraction.
Five super-luxurious adults-only villas at The San Luis Resort (AAA Four Diamonds) come with a private pool area and personal butler service.
If you want to be in the historical district, the classic Tremont House (AAA Three Diamonds) dates from 1839. The present incarnation of the hotel exudes European elegance.
Many Galveston hotels offer complimentary or reduced-fee parking with an overnight stay to cruise passengers; some also offer free shuttle service to and from the cruise terminal.
For a memorable dining experience, visit the century-old Hotel Galvez & Spa (AAA Four Diamonds) and its Bar & Grill restaurant. Here you’ll feast on freshly caught Gulf Coast seafood and Lone Star State specialties. The ambience is a marriage of vintage and modern. Enjoy piano or jazz music Wednesday through Saturday evenings. It’s also a great place to have breakfast or brunch before your high seas adventure.
The hotel is lovely to explore, having recently undergone a complete renovation. Check out the Hall of History for an interesting exhibit of photographs, antiques, and other collectibles from the hotel.
Cruise and POST-cruise options
Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have ships that sail from the Port of Galveston. In November 2016, Disney Cruise Line will return to Galveston.
Carnival sails from Galveston year-round. Its Breeze, which was repositioned in May to Texas, offers three Caribbean itineraries. It joins the line’s Freedom and Liberty ships.
Royal Caribbean’s renovated Liberty of the Seas ship sails to ports in Mexico, Honduras, and Jamaica. Check out the new musical, Saturday Night Fever, offered on the ship.
The Disney Wonder takes its guests on four- to seven-day cruises to the Caribbean and Bahamas. Disney Cruise Line incorporates its magic for children – from characters and shows to fireworks at sea – alongside adults-only activities and hotspots on board.
Extend your cruise vacation with a couple of additional days on Galveston Island. Soak up the cultural scene at numerous art galleries. Galveston Arts Center holds Saturday night ArtWalks throughout the historical district; the next events will be July 16 and Aug. 27.
Whether gallery hopping, shopping, or dining at beachfront restaurants, such as BLVD Seafood, you can take a break in Hendley Green, Galveston’s new urban park that was built by the city’s historical foundation.
Experience history via land, sea, or air at the Galveston Railroad Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, and Lone Star Flight Museum. There’s also a fantastic children’s museum, and the new Bryan Museum showcases what it calls the world’s largest private collection of Southwestern historical artifacts.
Moody Gardens, a popular island attraction, spreads across 242 acres that include a Rainforest Pyramid and an Aquarium Pyramid, which is going through renovations and will close Aug. 16–Nov. 16, 2016. Explore the Discovery Museum® with 3D and 4D theaters, a white sand beach, and a new five-tier Sky Trail® Ropes Course. Adrenaline junkies also should head over to Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, which opens the world’s tallest water coaster, MASSIV, this season.
If you didn’t get enough beach time in during your cruise, Galveston’s 32 miles of shoreline include 15 blocks of brand-new beaches just unveiled for the 2016 season, with another expansion project scheduled for completion this year.
Each of the five beach parks has its own personality. Family-friendly Stewart Beach also offers helicopter tours.
The party is on at East Beach. With horseback riding, a boardwalk, pavilion, and live music stage, you can enjoy concerts and free DJ entertainment on weekends through Labor Day. This is one of the few public beaches that allows guests to carry in alcohol.
Admission to any of the city’s beach parks is $8 per car per day, and parking along the seawall is $1 per hour or $8 per day.
History buffs should check out Seawolf Park, home to the U.S.S. Cavalla memorial and the U.S.S. Stewart, one of only three destroyer escorts in the world.
With most cruises departing between 4 and 5 p.m., it’s easy to extend your vacation by a day or two on either side to take advantage of all Galveston Island has to offer.
Shelley Seale is a contributor from Austin, Texas.