The Port of Galveston Cruise Ship Terminal in Galveston, Texas, is the departure point for many popular lines and ships including the Carnival Vista, Disney Wonder, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean — just to name a few. In fact, this port city just south of Houston saw 476,123 cruise passengers on 63 ships in 2020 alone.
But Galveston Island offers much more than a cruise port. Yes, you can embark on your next Caribbean cruise here, but if you’ve got a full day, or even half a day before embarking, Galveston has a ton of fun activities you can enjoy before or after your cruise.
If you are a history buff, then Galveston has everything from museums to ghost tours. Those looking for adventure can ride rollercoasters over the water or explore this charming island by bike.
If a little relaxing fun in the sun before your cruise is in order, Galveston has tons of public beaches.
Less than an hour’s drive from Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport, here are seven incredible things to do near Galveston’s Cruise Port.
1. Moody Gardens
Located roughly 6 miles from Galveston’s Cruise Port, Moody Gardens is a resort, spa, and hotel destination that also includes numerous attractions for the whole family. If you have a half day, explore the famed Rainforest and Aquarium Pyramids, and the MG3D Theater and 4D Theaters. Moody Gardens is also home to the Discovery Museum and the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat.
The Aquarium Pyramid is astonishing and well worth a visit. This 1.5-million-gallon aquarium is home to a large colony of penguins, playful seals, a hypnotic Jellyfish Gallery, and thousands of tropical fish and more. The Aquarium Pyramid is also a proponent of conservation with many educational displays about the importance of protecting our oceans.
One of the most intriguing attractions at the world-famous Aquarium Pyramid is the interactive Penguin Encounter and Otter Encounters. You can book a private session with the Aquarium’s resident penguins which includes a piece of Penguin Art and Aquarium Pyramid admission.
The Otter Encounter gives you firsthand experience with these little “puppies of the water.” In a 45-minute session, it includes a piece of otter-created art for each person and admission into the Rainforest Pyramid. Reservations are required for both encounters, either online or in person and the cost is $425 for a group of up to four people.
The Rainforest Pyramid brings you into the lush rainforests of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. After you enter the tree-top canopy, you’ll have the chance to see more than 1,700 exotic plants and endangered animals like the giant Amazon River otters, an ocelot, Komodo dragons, sloths, monkeys, and more.
Pro Tip: You’ll need a whole day or more to experience all the exhibits and pyramid attractions at Moody Gardens, but if you only have half a day, the Aquarium is quick and easy to explore. The Moody Gardens Hotel and Spa’s Texas Cruise Transportation Package includes a room for one night, free parking with a valet service for the entire length of your cruise, and a port shuttle.
2. Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston
If you just can’t wait to get into the water before your cruise, then take the roughly 6-mile trip to Schlitterbahn Waterpark near Moody Gardens.
This massive waterpark is an amusement park full of pools, lounges, heart-racing water slides, lazy rivers, and wave pools perfect for all ages in the family. You can spend the whole day under one of the many cabanas that come in various sizes. The Grand Cabana Deluxe, for instance, holds 24 people, includes souvenir towels, and offers 10 percent of food and beverages.
Adults can relax at the calming swim-up bar and the Blastenhoff Heated Pool, while the more adventurous can zip head first down the Infinity Racers — two space-themed racing slides that are a knee-shaking 8 stories tall and as long as two space stations.
Schlitterbahn is open seasonally and also boasts a variety of dining options from 16 vendors selling everything from seafood at the Surfside Grill, pizza pies from Pointe Pizza, and smoked brisket from B&B Barbecue Haus.
Pro Tip: Schlitterbahn has daily tickets for sale, but if you are cruising out of Galveston often, then the season passes may be a better option.
3. The Bryan Museum
Western and Native American art and artifacts take the spotlight at The Bryan Museum, one of Galveston’s top art museums and event destinations. The museum opened in 2015 after J.P. and Mary Jon Bryan purchased the old Galveston Orphans Home.
After spending most of his life collecting historic firearms, Western art and artifacts, literature, hand-crafted saddles, and more, Bryan undertook the restoration of the historic structure to create 20,000 square feet of exhibit space for a museum open to the public.
You could spend all day in the museum exploring the 70,000 items that include 20,000 rare books; more than 30,000 documents; three dozen saddles; over 250 antique firearms; a massive collection of fine art, religious art, folk art, and portraits; and rare maps.
The beautifully-manicured grounds have also become a popular spot for weddings and events, and the museum hosts them.
4. Ship To Shore At The Galveston Historic Seaport
Go back in time to explore the immigrant history and founding of Galveston in the new Ship to Shore Experience at the Galveston Historic Seaport.
This new attraction invites visitors to experience the journey of early immigrants to Galveston Port, which was nicknamed “The Ellis Island of the South.” The exhibition starts with the long sea voyage to the bustling streets of 1880s Galveston, one of the busiest ports and thriving cities in the United States at the time.
Visitors can take part in hands-on interactive learning displays and immerse themselves in the authentic and documented personal stories of immigrants landing in Galveston.
5. Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Who doesn’t love the celebratory feel of an old-fashioned pier with rides, funnel cakes, ice cream, and shows? At Galveston Island’s Pleasure Pier, you’ll spend a day soaring over the water on a variety of rides like The Texas Star Flyer, the Iron Shark Rollercoaster, the Pirate Plunge, and a whole slew of rides for the little ones.
There are plenty of dining options and alcoholic beverages to enjoy, as well as retail stores to shop at for clothes, souvenirs, and memorabilia.
The 5D Theater is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you are right there in the ocean with forgotten shipwrecks and some of the most impressive monsters of the sea.
Pro Tip: Parking is extremely limited, so your best bet is to use a rideshare to get to the pier. Also, take plenty of water and snacks, because buying food and drinks can get pretty expensive pretty quickly.
6. E-Bike Island Adventure Tour
Get your heart racing and your blood pumping on an e-bike adventure tour of the island with Zipp EBikes. If you only have half a day, this guided tour takes about 2 hours and is led by a local guide who can share the history of the island, take you through the historic neighborhoods, and show you the astonishing number of waterfowl in the East Lagoon area.
Zipp Ebikes is also planning on a future brewery tour which will take you to the local craft breweries in the area.
Pro Tip: You’ll need to be in relatively good physical condition for these tours. But don’t worry, eBikes are great for those who want the biking experience but need a little boost to get up challenging hills and such.
7. Junettenth Mural
In June 2021, Galveston unveiled and dedicated a 5,000-square-foot mural called Absolute Equality on the very spot where General Gordon Granger read General Order #3 guaranteeing the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas.
General Granger read that Texas order on June 19, 1865, which is now celebrated around the country as Juneteenth. The mural, created by Houston artist Reginald C. Adams, is located in the Old Galveston Square Building that overlooks the original proclamation site (the former Osterman Building located at 22nd Street and Strand).
The mural is part of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, which includes Absolute Equality, a 5,000-square-foot art installation featuring five portals that follow African American history from the enslavement of Africans to the Emancipation Proclamation. The storytelling and art space includes paintings, sculptures, and graphics.
8. 1887 Elissa Tall Ship And Texas Seaport Museum
In 1978, the Galveston Historical Foundation brought ELISSA, an 1877 square-rigged iron barque, from a scrapyard in Piraeus Harbor, Greece. By 1982, this historic tall-sail ship was restored and made into a floating museum that also offers sails to the public in April.
ELISSA is one of only three ships to still actively sail (only in April) and is the Official Tall Ship of Texas and a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the ship is a popular tourist attraction, but also plays hosts to weddings, special events, and lots of Instagrammable memories.
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