That’s just what French privateer and smuggler Jean Lafitte did before returning to his old ways and setting up base camp in 1817 in the city that would become Galveston. Nearly 1,000 followers eventually came to live in the commune called Campeche, from which Lafitte and his pirates launched attacks against Spanish ships.
Now nearly two centuries after Lafitte, the strategic importance of Galveston has been recognized by a handful of cruise ships that operate both year-round and seasonally from the Lone Star state’s leading cruise passenger port.
Situated on 32-mile-long Galveston Island and fl anking the Gulf of Mexico, the city of Galveston and its modern cruise terminal are only 50 miles from Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, and a quick sunny sail to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.
But while these exotic destinations beckon, Galveston itself merits at least a couple of nights pre or post-cruise, especially for those on one of the many short cruise itineraries offered from this port. Extend your four- or five-day cruise to make a full week’s vacation with time at sea mixed with time ashore at one of Galveston’s resorts, hotels or B&Bs.
In genteel Galveston, you’ll find Southern charm, activities and attractions for everyone, as well as a city that is both hospitable and easy to get around.
The downtown itself is dominated by restored 19th century buildings that have been converted to attractive shops and restaurants. To get acquainted with Galveston, take a stroll (or an evening horse drawn carriage ride) along The Strand, which became known as the “Wall Street of the Southwest,” for being home to the largest and most important wholesale houses west of the Mississippi River.
Because of the proximity from the cruise ship terminals, passengers — either disembarking the ship for a day or on pre- and post-cruise packages — will enjoy browsing the shops in The Historic Downtown Shopping District.
Visitors also enjoy casual strolling on Galveston Island’s historic seawall, built after the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history hit Galveston Island in 1900. The storm — with winds exceeding 120 miles per hour and tidal surge — killed more than 6,000 people. To prevent such a natural disaster from devastating the island again, the city built a seawall seven miles long and 17 feet high. Galveston’s seawall now extends 10.4 miles and is a major attraction.
From soft sandy beaches to 19th century archi tecture, the 2.5-mile-wide island boasts not only in credible beauty but also unique history, which brings us back to Lafitte. While the pirate is long gone, his legacy lives on. In May 1821, after Lafitte’s attack on an American ship, he was forced to abandon his operations in Galveston.
Before leaving, however, he hosted a huge party for his pirates with wine and whiskey. Presumably with a “ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum,” Lafitte burned his settlement. Legend has it that he also buried treasure on the island. It has never been found.
We’re not suggesting that by staying a few days that you will find Lafitte’s buried chest, but if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, you certainly will find treasure galore in Lafitte’s former home — Galveston.