You’re planning on taking a cruise and you’re not sure which port you want to ship out from. Between Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and various other states, the options are endless. Which one do you choose, and why?
For the purpose of this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about cruising from the Port of Galveston, on Galveston Island in Texas. We’ll cover the pros as well as the cons, so you can make a well-informed choice of whether to go to Galveston or look for something else.
Top 5 Pros of Cruising from the Port of Galveston
Lucky for you, there are plenty of pros to consider when cruising from the Port of Galveston. The island holds a lot of history and offers guests everything they could want from easy parking, attractions, beaches, dining opportunities, shopping, and lodging.
Let’s discuss in detail the advantages that Galveston has to offer, should you choose to cruise from there.
If you love history, then Galveston is the town for you. The history, heritage, and culture that Galveston has to offer its guests is enough to make most people want to visit Galveston, even if they’re not going on a cruise.
Before ever receiving the name we use today, the island was once home to both Akokisa and Karankawa Indians in the mid-1500s. The French tried to claim it in the 1600s and name it St. Louis, but in 1786, Spanish governor and general Bernardo de Galvez sent Jose de Evia to chart the Gulf of Mexico from. Evia named the mouth of a river near the island Galveston Bay, and that name was later applied to the island (and stuck).
Galvez never got a chance to visit the island that was named after him, for the same year he died of typhus at the age of forty.
And that’s just the beginning. Below we’ve compiled a list of various places you can visit to learn about all the wonderful historical facets that made Galveston Island what it is today.
Jean Lafitte’s Maison Rouge
The first town ever built (and later destroyed) on Galveston was built by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Though he was a pirate by trade, he refused to call himself that and went by the title “privateer” instead.
While living on the island, he founded a small village and built himself a house a decent distance from the village and called it the Maison Rouge, which translates into “Red House.”
Upon being forced out of Galveston in 1821 by the U.S. Government, he burned the entire village to the ground, but to this day the house still stands. It is now protected by a fence with barbed wire to keep treasure seekers from trying to find Lafitte’s treasure.
If you wish to visit the, the house is located at 1417 Harborside Drive. But be careful, the ruins of Maison Rouge are said to be haunted.
Pier 21 Theater
To learn more about Jean Lafitte and how he came to Galveston, over on Pier 21, just a short walk from the cruise port, is an old theater that shows three movies that cover a lot of Galveston’s history.
In addition to “The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte”, the other two movies are “The Great Storm” about the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, and “Galveston – Gateway on the Gulf”, which tells the story of how thousands of immigrants found refuge in the U.S. by way of the Galveston seaport.
1838 Michel B. Menard House
Galveston’s heritage doesn’t stop with the French and the Spaniards. After Lafitte left and burned everything down, the first official founder of Galveston Island as we know it today was Michel B Menard.
His house, located at 3302 Ave O, was built in 1838, when he founded the island, and stands still to this day. Though there are no public tours available, they do sometimes open the house for private events.
When you’re making plans for a cruise, one concern for many people is where to park their car for the duration of their cruise. Many ports around the country have extremely high parking rates, and the nearby third-party parking companies aren’t usually much better.
Galveston, however, is the exception. The island probably has the most available parking all around the island, at very inexpensive rates. Many port locations (and surrounding parking companies) will charge $15 or more per day and tell you that’s your cheapest option.
Meanwhile, in Galveston, $15 a day is the most expensive rate you’ll find. Let’s go over the parking options available to you should you choose to cruise out of Galveston.
Official Port of Galveston Parking
Many people whose main priority is convenience will choose to part in the official parking lots, even though it costs more. Still, as mentioned before, the prices here are still very reasonable compared to other ports who charge $20 or more for parking.
The official parking lots at the Port of Galveston offer shuttles, 24/7 security, a secured garage (slightly higher price), and ADA Handicap Accessible parking.
If you don’t mind parking outdoors, you can pre-pay for your spot and get a $5 discount on the overall cost. So normally, 7 days would cost you $85, but if you pre-pay it’s only $80.
They also offer parking for oversized vehicles, but they charge double the usual rate. 7 days for an RV or bus would cost you $160 (if pre-paid online).
Cruise Park Galveston
Located across the street from the cruise port, this locally owned and operated small business charges $59 for 7 nights. That comes out to less than $9 a night. The downside here is that they only offer parking for 7-day cruises, so you’re out of luck if you have a 4- or 5-day cruise.
Galv Park is a great company to park with. Not only do they have super cheap rates, but they have four different locations around the island, depending on what your needs are while visiting Galveston. Prices range from $5 a night to $10 a day. Two of their locations also offer monthly parking at $75 per month.
The only downside to parking with Galv Park, is that they don’t offer shuttle service to or from the cruise port. The three closest locations are within walking distance, but the one on Seawall Blvd is 2 miles away, so that can be an issue.
DCP Cruise Parking
If you need a full service parking lot, Discount Cruise Parking has it all. Free shuttle service, luggage assistance, security, and even an on-site gas station with convenience store. All of that, for prices starting at $9 per night.
Falstaff Cruise Parking
Prices here range between $8 and $9 per day, and they also provide free handicap-capable shuttle service to and from the cruise port. Their lot can even accommodate oversized vehicles like RVs or buses. Just let them know in advance to avoid additional charges.
81st Dolphin Parking
Located a few blocks from port, 81st Dolphin Parking has night security, shuttle service, and spots for oversized vehicles. Prices start at $55 for 4 nights.
In addition to the abundant history and cheap (and widely available) parking, Galveston also has many different attractions for guests to enjoy. There’s something for everyone on this little island, so let’s go over a few of the most popular ones.
Moody Gardens is a favorite among anyone who’s visited while in Galveston. It’s part theme park, part education center. The Gardens consists of three different pyramids, each housing different exhibits.
For instance, the Aquarium Pyramid has penguins, seals, stingrays, sharks, and all kinds of tropical fish from all over the Gulf of Mexico. Then, you head on over to the Rainforest Pyramid, and meet animals from all both Asia and Africa: Giant Amazon River Otters, Saki Monkeys, endangered plants like the Corpse Flower, parrots, and so much more.
Then, in the Discovery Pyramid has interactive exhibits for everyone. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Moody Gardens also has:
- Reef Rescue Virtual Reality Experience
- MG 3D Theater (featuring the world’s first giant 4k movie screen)
- 4D Special FX Theater
- Colonel Paddlewheel Boat
- Discovery Museum (currently closed while they build a new exhibit)
- Ropes course & zip line
- Palm Beach
- All-inclusive golf course
- Hotel with a spa and fitness center
Moody Gardens has so much to offer during your stay in Galveston, you may never want to leave.
The Strand District
The Strand District is just a short walk from the port and offers various shops, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, museums, and so much more. If browsing small downtown streets of a city rich with history and culture is your preference, you’ll want to take a stroll along the Strand.
Hotel Galvez & Spa
Both hotel and spa, Hotel Galvez is a great place to come to relax and unwind, even before you take your cruise. It’s located right along the Seawall, and they offer cruise guests parking for $10 a night and a complimentary shuttle to the port on cruise day.
If you’re into all things paranormal, then you’ll want to stay here (or just visit), as the hotel is said to be haunted. A young woman named Audra once hanged herself in the west turret when she thought her fiancé had died at sea. Unfortunately, he was alive, and returned to find his true love dead at her own hand.
Jackie Hasan, a concierge who has worked at the hotel for many years, believes that Audra’s spirit is locked in the hotel. Jackie conducts ghost tours around the hotel, encouraging guests to keep an eye out of the paranormal.
Galveston also offers guests many beach going options. Whether you just want to relax and listen to the sounds of the waves, have a beach party, or participate in some water activities, there’s a beach for you on this island. Many of which are within walking distance from the port or your hotel (depending on where you stay).
Here are the beaches open to visitors on Galveston Island:
Pocket Parks (1 and 2). Park 1 allows you to park your car directly on the beach, for a price. If you plan to frequent this beach, they offer an annual $50 parking pass that will save you a lot of money, as it’s normally between $12 and $15 per entry. Park 2 has paved parking (FREE), but you can’t park overnight, and it’s the home of the Tipsy Turtle Bar & Grill.
East Beach. This is a great spot for live concerts and festivals during the summer. Also has a pavilion, boardwalk, and entertainment stage. Full amenities include restrooms, showers, chair and umbrella rentals, playground, concessions, and more. This is also one of the few beaches that allows alcohol. Entrance is $12 during the week, $15 on the weekend, but $50 seasonal passes are available.
Stewart Beach. Great beach for families wanting to have some beach fun. It provides regular supervision by highly trained lifeguards, and it offers full amenities, including volleyball courts. Prices are the same as at East Beach.
Seawall Urban Park. Providing visitors with a 10-mile stretch of all the beach they could ever want, Seawall Urban Park is probably the most popular beach in Galveston. Located along the entire length of Seawall Boulevard, this park has the cheapest beach parking available. You can park for $1 an hour, $8 a day, or purchase a $25 annual pass. While on the beach you’ll have access to a variety of restaurants, resorts, tourist spots, all located along the Seawall.
Galveston Island State Park. Located on the western end of the island, this beach is a great spot for kayaking, surfing explorations, bird walks, nature trips, and more. You can also camp out on the beach. Admission is only $5 per person. For more information on camping, visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us. Details about the different activities can be found at www.fogisp.org.
The Galveston Pleasure Pier. The Pleasure Pier used to be the home of a hotel that was destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Instead of rebuilding the hotel, they instead built a theme park filled with rides, shops, restaurants, and more. Located just a few blocks down from the port, this is a great spot for families to visit before leaving on their cruise. Stay an extra day or two, if you want, to fully enjoy all the Pleasure Pier has to offer.
Attractions and history aren’t the only things Galveston has to offer. Throughout the city and along the Seawall there are plentiful dining options to choose from, whatever your culinary tastes are.
There’s too many to list them all, but here’s just a few:
- The Gumbo Diner
- Number 13 Prime Steak and Seafood
- Papa’s Pizza
- Taquilo’s Tex-Mex Cantina
- MOD Coffee & Tea House
- La King’s Confectionary
- Rudy & Paco
- Miller’s Seawall Grill
- Jack’s Pub
- Los Molcas
- Mike’s Little Supermarket & Deli
Bring your hunger to Galveston Island, and you won’t be disappointed.
We briefly mentioned a few hotels around Galveston Island that have special offers for cruise passengers. The truth is, there are many hotels in the area that do the same thing.
Some will have a full package that provides either free or discounted parking, along with transportation to and from the cruise port. Others provide only parking, or shuttle service.
Here is a list of some hotels that provide a full “Park & Cruise” package:
- Inn at the Waterpark
- Scottish Inn Galveston (no shuttle during the week)
- Gaido’s Seaside Inn
- Hilton Galveston Island Resort
- Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Galveston Beach
- Holiday Inn Resort Galveston – On the Beach
- Hotel Galvez & Spa
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott Galveston Island
- Four Points by Sheraton Galveston
- Ryson Real Estate and Vacation Rentals
- Courtyard by Marriott Galveston Island
- Hilton Galveston Island Resort
- The San Luis Resort
The Top 3 Cons of Cruising from the Port of Galveston
As much as we would like to say Galveston is perfect and doesn’t have any drawbacks, it is, unfortunately, not true. However, the disadvantages to visiting Galveston for a cruise are minimal.
While transportation in and around Galveston isn’t that difficult to find, getting to Galveston can be tricky. Especially if you’re coming from Houston, which takes about an hour to an hour and a half by car.
Transportation options you don’t have:
- No Amtrak (there’s supposedly a terminal, but we couldn’t find any routes from Houston so it may not be in operation)
- No Greyhound
- Only ONE rental car office (Enterprise)
Enterprise is going to be your only one-way rental option, as no one else has an office on the island. If you rent a car from one of the other companies, it will have to be round trip, which means you’ll be paying to use the car while you’re on your cruise. We don’t recommend going with that option, as it’s only going to be a waste of your money.
Taxi, Uber, or Lyft will be your best option if you’re flying into Houston. Fares to Galveston from Hobby are going to be cheaper than from Bush, so we suggest flying into that airport if you can.
That said, if you don’t mind a long road-trip, depending on where you’re traveling from, driving your own car is going to be the easiest and cheapest option. You only have to worry about gas (and possible tolls), and then parking.
Lack of Terminals
At the time of this article, Galveston still only has two terminals, but there are plans in place for a third terminal, expected to be open for business by Fall 2021.
Although Galveston is one of the most popular cruise ports, and the largest one in Texas, it’s possible that the lack of ports could be a con for some people. Right now, the only cruise lines that ship out from Galveston are Royal Caribbean, Carnival (both year-round), and Disney Cruises (seasonal). If your plans take you with a different cruise line, you won’t be able to go to Galveston.
With the hurricane that devastated Galveston Island in 1900, which inspired the building of the Seawall, and then the hurricane of 2008, weather is a common concern when it comes to cruising out of Galveston.
The good news is, with the Seawall in place now (which took about 60 years to build to completion), any damage from future hurricanes is going to be minimal. We recommend not visiting during the winter or high rainy seasons, as those will be prime times for hurricanes or similar storms to form.
Also, fog can be a big issue, especially if you’re traveling during the colder months. If you must cruise then, we suggest giving yourself a buffer of a day or two before or after the cruise, just in case there are delays due to fog. Otherwise, the best time to visit Galveston will be in the Spring and the Fall seasons.
Conclusion on Galveston Cruises
When it comes to comparing the pros and cons of using Galveston as your cruise port, there are many advantages to visiting this small but lively island. Filled with history, culture, delicious food, and all the fun you could ever want, it has everything. And, if you’re driving, it’s super easy to find parking, or get a hotel if you have to stay an extra day.
Getting to Galveston can be tricky if you’re flying in, as there isn’t any true “inexpensive” transportation method. Our top recommendation is to drive. If you must fly, though, getting an Uber or Lyft will be your next best option.
Furthermore, we recommend staying away from the island during bad weather seasons. Spring and Fall are going to be the best times to visit. Summer, though not a prime time for storms and fog, will be extremely hot and humid, and possibly very uncomfortable.
But even with those few cons in place, Galveston is a great place to visit if you can work out your transportation.