The Port of Galveston, on the northern side of Galveston Island, is an excellent embarkation/debarkation location for cruisers looking to go to the Western Caribbean and the Yucatan portion of Mexico.
The terminal is large and functional, but does not feature anything extra for cruise guests, but the port is within easy walking distance of virtually all of the downtown attractions.
There’s a Starbucks right across the way, and there are plenty of restaurants and convenience stores as well.
Embarkation, at least for my Carnival cruise, was fairly easy; there were plenty of check-in desks. Debarkation was a problem as everyone funnels through a narrow area to get to a limited number of immigration/customs stations. Guests should be careful to consider their flight times on departure days. There’s reasonable access for buses, cars and taxis.
One of the attractions of Galveston as a port is its accessibility for anyone who wants to drive there from Texas or any of the neighboring states, especially Louisiana. The driving distance from Houston is listed as 47 miles, but actual driving time is going to vary based onstarting location and traffic.
For those flying in for their vacations, both Hobby and Bush International airports can be used (Hobby is a lot closer but Bush offers many more flights). There are taxis to and from the port: it’s $70 to Hobby and $120 to Bush.
For two or more people a taxi may be a better option than the cruise line transfers (many are vans, so luggage for three or four shouldn’t be an issue).
For those driving to the port and not staying pre or post at a Galveston hotel, there are several parking opportunities including a lot adjacent to the pier operated by the port. It’s $65 for a week cruise, and they’ll shuttle guests to and from the pier along with luggage. Six blocks away is Lighthouse Parking (877-91-LIGHT) at $45 for the week including shuttle service.
Whether driving to the port or flying in to Houston and transferring, Galveston offers plenty of things to do on the day of arrival and also on the day of departure. It’s also terrific place to stay for one or two nights pre or post.
Within walking distance of the port are plenty of local attractions, convenience stores, souvenir shops and some excellent restaurants. A little farther away is the entire stretch of the Galveston Seawall that is wonderful for walking, jogging, eating, etc.
The hot restaurant of the moment is Rudy & Paco’s, renowned for its crabcakes. I had dinner at Sky Bar Steak & Sushi, probably the best and most innovative Japanese food I’ve had. But along the Seawall are some great-looking restaurants with views of the gulf and featuring fresh fish of all kinds.
Galveston is home to four districts on the National Register of Historic Places and three National Historic Landmarks. That’s pretty impressive for a place that’s only 32 miles long and under three miles wide. Best of all, most of the major attractions are right next to or relatively near the cruise port. Among the sights visitors should consider are:
- Moody Gardens: the number one tourist attraction, it’s a non-profit organization covering 242 acres. Full of subtropical landscaping, it offers a variety of options for sightseers: the 10-story Glass Pyramid showcasing exotic flora and fauna of Asia, Africa and the Americas; an IMAX 3D Theater; a futuristic movie ride; one of the largest aquariums in the world; a white-sand beach and more – there’s certainly plenty for a family to see and do. www.moodygardens.com
- Lone Star Flight Museum: the best of its kind that I’ve seen outside of the Smithsonian, it houses a beautiful collection of old flying machines from one-seat craft on up to military jets. The exhibits present aviation heroes and pioneers from Texas; the stories of these adventurers are simply amazing. The museum offers flights on some of these fabulous planes. Check out www.lsfm.org to make reservations.
- Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum: The giant oil rigs located in the Gulf of Mexico are amazing and some of them are right in the port of Galveston. Up close you begin to see how big they are. Visitors can go through this retired jack-up rig, explore some great exhibits and view a video about the offshore industry (how they position and anchor the big rigs is fascinating). For info, their website is www.oceanstaroec.com.
- Pier 21 Great Storm Video: Galveston was devastated by a massive hurricane in 1900. This slide and sound show is a terrific depiction of what took place, told in the words of actual survivors. You gain a terrific appreciation of how the city was wrecked and then the aftermath.
- Historic Home Tours: Galveston is home to some beautiful century-plus-old homes that are open for viewing. The Moody Mansion, for example, was home to the “first family” of Houston, without whom the city may never have grown the way it did. The library collection of first-edition books is worth the trip all by itself.
- Strand District: this is the easily walkable area in downtown. Among the highlights is the Grand 1894 Opera House (www.thegrand.com). It’s beautiful and a great place to take in a performance if doing a pre/post. Visitors need to make sure they go to the lower floor and check out the exhibits including photographs of famous people who have performed there. There are plenty of restaurants, shops and other points of interest in the Strand, including the Downtown Visitors Center, the Galveston Historic Museum and Galveston Arts Center, all worth a visit depending on time.
- Seasonal Events: Depending on when someone is sailing, there are some terrific specialty events taking place. For example: “Mardi Gras! Galveston” in March, “Cinco de Mayo” in May and “Dickens on the Strand” in December.
If you do a pre or post visit to Galveston Island, check out the offerings from Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Both lines use two of the more historic hotels: The Galvez and Tremont House.
The Galvez, a magnificent gulf-front 226-room property with great water views, was originally built is 1911 as a symbol that Galveston had survived the big storm of 1900. A guest there now would have no idea how old the hotel is as it has been so beautifully restored over the years; when restoring various rooms for example they found architectural features and glass windows that had been covered up by previous owners and operators. Keeping up to date even further, they have just opened a fully-loaded spa. Also ask the concierge about the “ghost” of the hotel. It’s also a great place for a wedding.
The Tremont House is a fully-restored Wyndham Historic Hotel right in the downtown district with a four-story atrium, birdcage elevators and lots of tropical palms.
There are plenty of other hotels to consider, some on Seawall Boulevard, the ten-mile stretch along the gulf, or in downtown. Many of them offer the nice feature of free parking for cruise ship guests while they are sailing. They even offer free shuttle service to and from the pier.
For information, the Convention & Visitors Bureau is at 1-888-GAL-ISLE (425-4753) or www.galveston.com. For travel agents, www.cruisegalveston.com is a great resource for info on hotels, airport transfers, parking and cruise schedules.
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Galveston.