The Port of Galveston has long been a bustling center of commerce and activity-first as established by the Congress of Mexico, and then as an immigration port for those entering Texas. At one time, the port was the busiest in the Gulf of Mexico, and second in trade only to New York. The port has been ravaged by historic hurricanes on more than one occasion (most recently in 2008), but it continues to come back stronger than ever. Today, the port has just as much activity as it ever did, but it has switched its focus from commerce to cruises. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Disney all have cruises that say Bon Voyage in Galveston.
For many visitors, the only views they see of the city of Galveston are from the deck of the ship, but the wealth of activities in the city make it a perfect “first port of call.” Instead of blowing into town just in time to board the ship, consider adding a couple of days on dry land before your sail, and explore the variety of activities in the city of Galveston.
Big Hits for History Buffs
Galveston is steeped in history, with attractions that run the gamut from the era of World War II to the nautical past that is deeply intertwined with the islands. For those who long to peer into the past, there is something for every interest.
- Lone Star Flight Museum: Home to one of the finest restored aircraft collections in the nation. The museum includes the unique opportunity to take to the air in a restored P-51 Mustang, a B-17,
- Seawolf Park: Named for the Seawolf Submarine lost in WWII, the park now displays the WWI submarine Cavalla, and the USS Stewart Destroyer Escort, one of only two submarine destroyers left in existence. The park was built on an immigration and quarantine site, and offers a three story pavilion with a view of Galveston Harbor. Picnic tables, play equipment, and a lighted fishing pier are also available.
- Galveston Railroad Museum: Boasts one of the largest restored railcar collections in the Southwest, and one of the five largest collections in the country. The collections consists of the Santa Fe Warbonnets rolling stock, and an extensive collection of model train layouts in a range of gauges.
- Texas Seaport Museum and Tall Ship Elissa: Located in Historic Pier 21, the Texas Seaport Museum tells of the legacy of the sea in both commerce and immigration. The museum is also home to the famed Tall Ship Elissa, a three masted, iron-hulled sailing ship that was built in 1877. The seaworthy vessel serves as the official Tall Ship of Texas, and sails annually in the trials of the Gulf of Mexico to keep the heritage of masted ships alive.
- The Great Storm Theatre: More than 100 years later, the Great Storm that hit Galveston in 1900 is still a vital part of the history of the island. A film chronicling the firsthand accounts and pictures from the terrible disaster can be seen at this theatre, along with other historical films featuring Pirate Jean Lafitte, who called Galveston home and the port of Galveston’s part in the history of immigration.
Top Attractions for Science and Nature Lovers
It’s no surprise that the sea is at the center of the scientific explorations in Galveston, but there are surprisingly many aspects of ocean life to discover in the port of Galveston.
- Historic Harbor Tour and Dolphin Watch: This tour combines the best of both the science and history worlds with a one hour dolphin watch and history tour. Pods of dolphins are regularly seen playing in the wake of the tour boat and other boats around the harbor. In between thrilling dolphin sightings, you will get up close to the shipwreck of the Selma, and learn about the history of Seawolf Park and the Lighthouse at Bolivar Point.
- Ocean Start Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum: A retired jackup drilling rig has been transformed into a museum that explores the life, commerce, and science of an offshore oil rig. The museum features three floors of models and interactive displays illustrating the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. Scale models of production platforms, actual drill bits and remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) are also on display. The highlight of the museum is the chance to walk the skywalk to the drilling floor of the rig to get a close-up look at the massive mechanism.
- Art/Eco-Tour Kayak Adventures: Public tours of the marshland combine an active kayak tour with a unique watercolor class. Paddle out into the coastal margins and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, then stop for a relaxing break that encourages participants to channel their inner Picasso and create a watercolor souvenir of the beautiful surroundings.
- Big Reef Nature Park: A bird watchers paradise! The large wetland area features egrets, herons, ducks, cormorants, and gulls, often in large flocks. The park also includes the East Lagoon Nature Trail where the tidal marsh environment creates a perfect home for birdwatching and other animal sightings.
From Theme Parks to Thrill Rides
Some of the best known attractions on the island are the thrills and theme parks that have been a part of the history of the city for many years.
- Moody Gardens: A vast compound that includes an aquarium, a beachfront waterpark, a rainforest habitat, three different movie viewing experiences, a science museum, and a replica 1800’s paddlewheel boat. Check out this post for a more complete review of the magic that is Moody Gardens
- Schliterbahn Waterpark: Voted the #1 Waterpark in America, Schlitterbahn offers a convertible section so that the uphill coasters, slides, and splashes can be enjoyed year round.
- Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier: Pleasure Pier has been a fixture in Galveston entertainment since it was opened in the 1940s as a military entertainment center. Hurricanes in 1965 and 2008 took a huge toll on the historic area, but it has been revived and is better than ever. Classic rides, like a double-decker carousel, Ferris wheel and bumper cars are paired with thrilling roller coasters and a 200 foot swing that is the highest ride in Texas.
~Galveston CVB, Moody Gardens, and Carnival Cruise Lines hosted our weekend in Galveston. They did not require that I express a particular viewpoint and all opinions are my own~