Big Ship Cruising: Carnival Freedom Live Voyage Report – Day 2

Carnival Freedom Sets Out On Her First Voyage From Galveston

With nearly a full day in Galveston before we set sail this evening, we took the chance to explore the oddly-appealing city of Galveston, Texas. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
With nearly a full day in Galveston before we set sail this evening, we took the chance to explore the oddly-appealing city of Galveston, Texas. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I’ve learned much today here in Galveston, Texas aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom. Since today marks the official start of our six-day Western Caribbean cruise, those of us staying onboard were given “In Transit” guest passes and turned loose on Galveston this morning around 9:00 a.m for a half-day of explorations before our all-aboard call of 3:00 p.m.

Carnival Freedom docked in Galveston on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The large yellow crane at left is removing pieces of the stage from the Martina McBride concert. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Freedom docked in Galveston on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The large yellow crane at left is removing pieces of the stage from the Martina McBride concert. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

To start with, I discovered Galveston has the third-largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States, with numerous parties running in town last night and again tonight, culminating with Fat Tuesday.

Of course. Fat Tuesday. I should have known that.

Do you know I had to Wikipedia “Fat Tuesday” to figure out what the heck it was? Now, everyone in the South – and indeed, perhaps the whole United States – is probably laughing at me, but hear me out: I’m Canadian. Generally speaking, we know not of your Fat Tuesday rituals. Spoiler Alert: it’s actually called Shrove Tuesday in many European countries. Frankly, it sounds a lot like indigestion. Pass me the antacids…

“Fat Tuesday” is simply the English translation of Mardi Gras from the original French. This year, it falls on Tuesday the 17th of February, though celebrations tend to run either before or through that date. At least, I think.

Exploring the historic streets of Galveston, largely deserted at this early hour because of Mardi Gras celebrations the night before! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Exploring the historic streets of Galveston, largely deserted at this early hour because of Mardi Gras celebrations the night before! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

What I do know is this: Galveston’s a pretty darn cool city. It doesn’t have the sexy reputation of, say, Miami but in many ways, cruising to the Caribbean from Galveston is a real winner. It’s served by two airports (George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby); is accessible on a single flight from places like Western Canada and most of the United States and even parts of Europe; and the cruise pier actually borders the historic old town of Galveston, now collectively known as The Strand.

Did I mention Starbucks is literally right across the street?

The tall ship Elissa, with Carnival Freedom in the background. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The tall ship Elissa, with Carnival Freedom in the background. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Freshly caffeinated and Wi-Fi’d, it was time to set out and explore Galveston. To be frank, it wasn’t a city I’d ever considered cruising out of. I had it pegged as a gritty container port situated on the Gulf; one of those places that cruise lines used because of its accessibility to the ocean rather than because of its charm.

But Carnival sees something very special in Galveston. It’s why they’ve repositioned Carnival Freedom from her longtime port of Fort Lauderdale over to the Lone Star State. Having spent the better part of the morning playing tourist, I can understand why.

On-deck aboard the Elissa, which can be toured top-to-bottom as part of the Texas Seaport Museum. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
On-deck aboard the Elissa, which can be toured top-to-bottom as part of the Texas Seaport Museum. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

First, there’s a plethora of activities and adventures that you can take part in that are located right around the cruise pier itself. Today, I took in both the Texas Seaport Museum, which houses the century-old tall ship Elissa; and the Ocean Star Offshore Rig Museum. Both are located less than 15 minutes walking distance from the pier, and both are great fun.

At the Texas Seaport Museum, guests can tour the Elissa – a magnificent sailing ship that was originally constructed in Scotland in 1877 and rescued from the breakers in Piraeus, Greece a century later. The City of Galveston bought her and restored her to her original glory in the early 1980’s , and today she sits on the waterfront not just as an iconic piece of maritime history, but as a representation of Galveston’s historic ties with the sea.

Interior restoration aboard the Elissa, which was built in 1877 in Scotland. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Interior restoration aboard the Elissa, which was built in 1877 in Scotland. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Elissa's wheel... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Elissa’s wheel… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and imposing main mast. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and imposing main mast. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I grew up in the Canadian province of Alberta, also known as the Oil & Gas capital of Canada. Alberta and Texas get along quite well, thanks to their similar outlook on natural resources. Regardless of where you stand on that debate, there’s no denying that having the opportunity to explore an oil rig-turned-museum is a pretty big deal.

You can also tour a real offshore drilling rig in Galveston: the Ocean Star. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
You can also tour a real offshore drilling rig in Galveston: the Ocean Star. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Ocean Star Offshore Oil Rig not only showcases the actual rig itself, but the entire oil, gas and offshore drilling industry. They do this through an interpretive centre that boasts three separate stories, complemented by two outdoor levels that showcase the rig’s outer workings, including Blow-Out Preventers, drill bits, semi-submersibles, and even early diving gear and equipment. The center even provides resources for those looking for a career in oil and gas in the Galveston area.

The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum boasts three floors of exhibits... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum boasts three floors of exhibits… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...plus actual equipment used in various stages of production. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…plus actual equipment used in various stages of production. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It's a long way to the top! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It’s a long way to the top! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

And those are just two of the dozens of Galveston-area attractions clustered around the historic Strand district. Galveston also boasts one of the largest Railway Museums in the country, the Lone Star Flight Museum, the Grand 1884 Opera House, and the haunted Mayfield Manor and the aptly-named Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier.

Walking the historic streets of Galveston. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Walking the historic streets of Galveston. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The other thing that is interesting about Galveston is that it is an amazingly historic, picturesque city. At times it resembles a curious cross between New Orleans, Louisiana and Charleston, South Carolina. Streets look like they’re right out of central casting for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and it’s amazing more films aren’t lensed here.

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