Carnival Freedom Sets Out On Her First Voyage From Galveston
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For lunch, we stopped at the equally-historic Tremont House Hotel. Located just two blocks from the Carnival Freedom, this boutique Wyndham Grand Hotel is situated in an immaculately preserved, white-washed building at 2300 Ship’s Mechanic Row. One of Galveston’s premier properties, it more closely resembles some of the Relais & Chateaux hotels I’ve seen around the world, with beautiful white woodwork coupled with dark cherry wood accents. Lunch was to-die-for, and the hotel itself was so beautiful I wished I could have ambled up to the bar, channelled Ernest Hemingway, and just enjoyed a mojito-soaked afternoon of writing.
Even if you did a pre-cruise hotel stay here, you could practically haul your own luggage to the ship and it’d only take you five minutes. Not your style? No worries – the hotel provides free shuttle service to the pier.
The Tremont is also located dangerously close to what I feel might be the coolest shop I have ever seen: the Nautical Antiques and Tropical Décor shop on 2202 Ship’s Mechanic Row. One of approximately 23 antiques stores in Galveston (an entire brochure is put out by the Galveston Antiques Dealers Association), the Nautical Antiques stores is a maritime collectible fan’s own personal heaven. In fact, there’s so much cool stuff here that myself and friend Jason Leppert of Popular Cruising half-joked that fellow colleague Peter Knego, known for his amazing collection of mid-ship century memorabilia, must have supplied them with half of their stock!
Fortunately, I managed to resist buying running lights, portholes, skeleton keys, deadlights, ventilation cowling, navigation charts, signal flags, flares, tyfon horns, and the like – though probably only because I was crunched for time and had to get back onboard the Carnival Freedom. Departure time was at-hand, and the Western Caribbean was calling.
Interestingly, for all the cruises I’ve taken, this was the first time I’ve been an in-transit guest, as the first night onboard Carnival Freedom was treated as an entirely separate voyage due to its special nature. Check-in for this cruise was a snap: I handed in my “In-transit” pass; my name was cross-checked with the passenger list; I was handed a new keycard with my returned passport and off I went!
Departure from Galveston was unusually cold, with grey skies and a wind that nipped at exposed skin. Were it not for the abundance of offshore oil rigs visible in the distance, I’d have sworn we were setting sail for Alaska – it was that chilly.
Not that anyone seemed to care, mind you – this is, after all, Carnival Freedom’s very first sailing out of Galveston, and her guests lined the rails on the upper decks to take in the Sailaway Party’s music and dancing. Most of my fellow guests hail from the Lone Star State, and everyone seems to be looking forward to our near-week of adventure along Mexico’s Yucatan coast.
Everyone’s having fun – and isn’t that what Carnival has always been about?
Our full journey:
Carnival Freedom, Western Caribbean
|February 14, 2015||Galveston, Texas||Embark Carnival Freedom in Galveston; pre-cruise event for Operation Homefront.||Overnight in Galveston|
|February 15||Galveston, Texas||Overnight||4:00 PM|
|February 16||Fun Day At Sea|
|February 17||Costa Maya, Mexico||1:00 PM||8:00 PM|
|February 18||Cozumel, Mexico||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|February 19||Progresso, Yucatan, Mexico||9:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|February 20||Fun Day At Sea|
|February 21||Galveston, Texas||8:00 AM||Disembarkation|