One of the biggest success stories in cruising is the rise of Galveston. Less than two decades ago there were no cruise ships that sailed from the island. Today it hosts some of the biggest and best ships offered by both Royal Caribbean and Carnival.
Part of that success is the port’s location near Houston — America’s fourth-largest city. However, the island itself has a lot to offer. It’s one of the biggest tourist towns in Texas, with no shortage of things to do.
If you are planning to sail from Galveston, it’s a good idea to add an extra day before your cruise to explore the island instead of just using it as a departure point. To help you out, we’ve rounded up some of the best attractions on the island…
1. Galveston/Port Bolivar Ferry — Want to get on a boat, before you get on your boat? Then take a free trip on the ferry to the Bolivar Peninsula. The rides takes about 15 minutes, although during the heavy traffic of the summer months the wait to ride can take 2 hours or more. Insider tip: People who walk aboard can hop right on the next boat. Park in the free lot and simply walk aboard for a quick trip.
2. Beautiful Architecture — Galveston has more history than just about any other city in Texas… and that comes to life in some of the island’s famous mansions.
The Moody Mansion is a 28,000 square foot home built around the turn of the century. Today it has been restored to its original glory and offers tours seven days a week. Bishop’s Palace was built in 1892 and is now considered one of the best examples of Victorian architecture. Ashton Villa is even older, dating back to 1859. It was from Ashton Villa’s balcony that the “Juneteenth Proclamation” was read, freeing Texas slaves. Today the building is also known as one of the most haunted buildings in America.
3. Seawolf Park — Seawolf Park is one of Galveston’s most forgotten attractions, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The park sits on a spit of land jutting out from Pelican Island (the island across from the cruise terminal). Visitors will get to tour the submarine Cavalla, famous for sinking the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku. The USS Stewart, a destroyer escort, is also on display.
4. Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Museum — Maybe it’s just us, but we thought an offshore drilling museum would be a bore. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The museum is consistently ranked as one of the top attractions in Galveston, and it’s right next to the cruise terminal. The museum sits on a retired oil rig and will teach you everything about drilling and exploration for energy in the Gulf’s waters.
5. Galveston Pleasure Pier — It’s one of Galveston’s newest attractions, and it sit at the spot of one of the island’s most famous former landmarks. The Flagship Hotel used to sit on this pier into the Gulf, but was heavily damaged during Hurricane Ike. Now the hotel has been taken down and the Pleasure Pier has taken its place.
The Pleasure Pier includes roughly a dozen of rides (including a roller coaster) and a restaurant, all sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Moody Gardens — If you drive into Galveston from Houston, you can’t miss Moody Gardens. Its iconic pyramids house a living rainforest with over 1,000 species of plants and animals, an aquarium, an IMAX theater, and much more. It’s a great way to spend the day and see many animals that you can’t see anywhere else.
7. Lone Star Flight Museum — One of our favorite things to do, the Lone Star Flight Museum houses dozens of airplanes, primarily from World War II. If you’re feeling adventurous, you don’t have to just look at these beautiful planes — you can ride in them. The museum offers flight sessions for everything from B-17s to P-51 Mustangs.
8. The Elissa — One of Galveston’s most famous attractions, the 141-foot long Elissa is a three-masted sailing ship built in 1877. Today the ship is immaculately restored, and sits in port right next to the Galveston cruise terminal. Visitors are welcome to come aboard and tour the ship, and experience one of the island’s crown jewels.
9. Schlitterbahn Galveston — You’ve likely heard of Schlitterbahn. The water park in New Braunfels is consistently voted the best in the world. Now Schlitterbahn has been brought to Galveston. The park has dozens of rides — including many that are indoor and heated, so you can enjoy them even in the winter.
10. The Strand — A short walk from the Port of Galveston, the Strand District gives you a taste of old Galveston. Today it is a popular shopping area, with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and more. Be sure to check out La King’s Confectionary to pick up something sweet before your cruise. If you have an hour or two before boarding, then the Strand is a great option.