On a barrier island just two miles off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico at the entrance to Galveston Bay, 9.3 miles from the open sea or 30 minutes sailing time and alongside the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Four cruise lines currently call Galveston home: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Celebrity.
The George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston is about 70 miles from Galveston. Hobby Airport (HOU) is closer at 42 miles, but traveling time is about an hour and a half from either airport. Galveston Limousine offers $30 frequent service from both airports to the cruise terminal in Galveston. A typical taxi fare from Hobby is $75, and from George Bush Intercontinental, about $100
Galveston Island boasts a tremendous variety of accommodations for every budget and preference — from luxury hotels and resorts to elegant bed and breakfasts, beach house rentals to condominiums. A few a within walking distance of the cruise dock.
Luxury resort hotels include the Hotel Galvez (a Wyndham Historic Hotel), Moody Gardens Hotel & Spa, San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center and The Tremont House (a Wyndham Historic Hotel). Mid-priced hotels include Holiday Inn Sunspree, the Quality Inn & Suites, the Baymont Inn & Suites, and Hampton Inn & Suites. Beach houses and B&Bs are found everywhere on the island.
Just 40 minutes south of Houston, Galveston is a small romantic island tucked deep within the heart of south Texas possessing all the charm of a small southern town. At 32 miles long and two and a half miles wide, Galveston offers 32 miles of relaxing beaches, superb restaurants, top resort hotels, marvelous downtown shopping, numerous antique stores, incredible art galleries, fabulous entertainment and one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country.
With hundreds of historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places, and thousands of historic houses, Galveston is one of the country’s most important concentrations of late 19th- and early 20th-century architecture. Hurricanes have damaged Galveston over the years but the community continues to flourish.
Galveston Historical Foundation’s preservation programs are actively involved in preserving the city’s historic buildings, especially stabilizing older neighborhoods and fostering appreciation for Galveston’s architectural heritage.
Other than the beach, two top destinations for Galveston visitors are the 242-acre Moody Gardens and the newly-opened Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark. Part theme park, part educational and rehabilitative facility, part pleasure garden, Moody Gardens is a vacation all by itself, and Schlitterbahn is the first waterpark of its kind that is open year-round!
The best way to connect to Galveston’s past is by an excursion through one of its historic districts, or a tour of one of the historic homes that are open to the public. Stroll through the 36-square-block area of downtown Galveston, exploring the enticing shops on The Strand, the waterfront district and the docks for the cruise lines, and the trendy Post office Arts District. Pick up one of Galveston Historical Foundation’s excellent brochures. For a self-guided walking or driving tour of the East End Historical District (east of 19th Street) or the Silk Stocking District (from 23rd to 26th streets, between Avenues K and P).
Museum’s abound, whether you fancy land, sea, or air – from the art deco Railroad Museum at the foot of The Strand, to the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum on Pier 20, to the Lone Star Flight Museum (next to Moody Gardens), the Mardi Gras Museum, the Texas Seaport Museum on Pier 21 featuring the Tall Ship Elissa and the Galveston County Historical Museum round out the Island’s collection.
Galveston has shopping for most everyone’s tastes, whether you like upscale, artsy, or beach trendy. With a city this historically minded and individual in its tastes, expect to find wonderful antique and curio stores; look for treasures both downtown and on Broadway.
Fishing waters around Galveston Island provide local restaurants with the freshest and largest selection of seafood on the Gulf of Mexico, and area eateries presents these fruits of the sea at their tastiest.
At least 20 types of fish are caught in local waters during any one season, providing a great diversity of savory fare. Red snapper, redfish, trout, and flounder are some local favorites that come straight from harbor docks of one of the largest charter fleets in Texas.
Although freshly-caught seafood is a resounding favorite on the Island, area menus offer tastes from around the world, ranging from well-known Cajun favorites to Tuscan secret recipes. You’ll find succulent steaks, juicy chicken dishes, and plenty of vegetarian options from which to choose.
Galveston’s restaurants are unique, with their own signature dining experiences. The coast is well garnished with refined establishments, several featuring suited servers, soft candlelight and piano interludes accompanied by sensational entrees. Traditional salt-air cafes serve up local seafood with simple zest and a casual atmosphere.
You might try Clary’s Seafood Restaurant, one of the fancier and more romantic spots in town; Queen’s Bar-B-Que for some of the best hickory-smoked food in town; or Shrimp ‘n’ Stuff where locals head for gumbo, hush puppies, fried fish and plenty of oysters.
Things to do:
Spend the day at a sun-filled beach, venture into a tropical rainforest, experience life on an offshore rig, or explore a World War II naval display. The island offers a wide variety of activities for every age and is a great place to spend a few days before or after your cruise.
Fixed rail trolley cars can be boarded at the Galveston Island Trolley stops located at 2100 Seawall, 2016 Strand, and at The University of Texas Medical Branch. Built in a turn of the century style similar to those used in Galveston from the late 1800’s to 1938, the trolleys provide a unique mode of transportation from Galveston’s Seawall to The Strand Landmark Historic District, Post office Street Arts & Entertainment District and Pier 21.
The Great Storm, a multimedia presentation at the Pier 21 Theater, gives visitors a glimpse of the devastating 1900 Storm through a multi-image documentary experience. The 27-minute story gives actual accounts from diaries and letters of survivors during and after the storm.
The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, located at Pier 19, gives visitors an opportunity to step aboard an offshore rig and experience how oil and gas is produced offshore. Videos, interactive displays and models take patrons to offshore locations all over the world.
Seawolf Park, Pelican Island via Seawolf Parkway (51st Street), was built on an immigration station site and offers a three-story pavilion with a view of Galveston harbor, picnic sites, a playground area and a lighted fishing pier. A World War II submarine (the USS Cavalla), a destroyer escort (the USS Stewart), and other military hardware are open for tours.
The Grand Opera House was built in 1894 and has a very special place in the history of the island. It is one of the few remaining theaters of its era in Texas and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As further recognition of its importance to the citizens of Texas, in 1993 the 73rd Texas Legislature proclaimed The Grand “The Official Opera House of Texas.”
— Ray Chatelin