8 Amazing Things to Do Near the Galveston Cruise Port

The Port of Galveston Cruise Terminal in Galveston, TX is the departure point for many popular lines and ships, including Carnival Vista, Disney Wonder, Norweigan Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean, to name a few. In fact, this port city just south of Houston welcomed 476,123 cruise passengers on 63 ships in 2020 alone.

But Galveston Island offers much more than a cruise port. Yes, you can board here on your next Caribbean cruise, but if you have a full day or even a half day before boarding, Galveston has a ton of fun activities you can enjoy before or after your cruise.

If you’re a history buff, then Galveston has everything from museums to ghost tours. Those looking for adventure can ride a roller coaster over water or explore this charming island by bike.

If you want to relax in the sun for a bit before your cruise, Galveston has plenty of public beaches.

Less than an hour’s drive from Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport, here are seven amazing things to do near the Galveston cruise port.

The Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens is home to more than 1,700 exotic plants and endangered animals. (Photo credit: Heide Brandes / Shutterstock.com)

1. Gloomy Gardens

Located approximately 6 miles from the Galveston cruise port, Moody Gardens is a resort, spa and hotel destination that also includes many attractions for the whole family. If you have half a day, explore the famous pyramids in the rainforest and the aquarium, as well as the MG3D theater and 4D theaters. Moody Gardens is also home to the Discovery Museum and the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat.

The Aquarium pyramid is amazing and well worth a visit. This 1.5 million gallon aquarium is home to a large colony of penguins, playful seals, a mesmerizing gallery of jellyfish and thousands of tropical fish and more. The Pyramid Aquarium is also a proponent of conservation with many educational exhibits on the importance of protecting our oceans.

One of the most intriguing attractions at the famous Pyramid Aquarium is the interactive encounter with penguins and otters. You can book a private session with the Aquarium’s resident penguins, which includes penguin artwork and entry to the Aquarium Pyramid.

The Otter Encounter gives you first-hand experience with these little “water puppies”. During a 45-minute session, it includes an artwork created by the otter for each person and entry into the rainforest pyramid. Reservations are required for both meetings, online or in person, and the cost is $425 for a group of up to four people.

The Rainforest Pyramid takes you to the lush rainforests of Asia, Africa and the Americas. After entering the tree canopy, you will have the chance to see over 1,700 exotic plants and endangered animals like giant Amazon otters, an ocelot, Komodo dragons, sloths, monkeys, etc

Pro tip: You’ll need a full day or more to experience all of the exhibits and pyramid attractions in 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 one night’s accommodation, complimentary valet parking for the duration of your cruise, and a port shuttle.

2. Schlitterbahn Galveston Water Park

If you can’t wait to get in the water before your cruise, make the approximately 6-mile trip to Schlitterbahn Water Park near Moody Gardens.

This huge water park is an amusement park filled with swimming pools, lounges, thrilling water slides, lazy rivers and wave pools perfect for all ages of the family. You can spend the whole day under one of the many huts of different sizes. The Grand Cabana Deluxe, for example, sleeps 24, includes souvenir towels, and offers 10% off food and beverages.

Adults can relax at the soothing pool bar and Blastenhoff heated pool, while the more adventurous can spin headfirst on the Infinity Racers – two knee-shaking space-themed racing slides of 8 floors and as long as two station spaces.

Schlitterbahn is open seasonally and also offers a variety of dining options from 16 vendors selling everything from seafood at Surfside Grill, pizza from Pointe Pizza and smoked brisket from B&B Barbecue Haus.

Pro tip: Schlitterbahn offers daily tickets for sale, but if you get out of Galveston often, season passes may be a better option.

Horse saddle inside the Bryan Museum.
“The Bryan Museum in Galveston houses an extensive collection of Western art and artifacts, including antique saddles.” (Photo credit: Heide Brandes)

3. The Bryan Museum

Western and Native American art and artifacts take center stage at the Bryan Museum, one of Galveston’s top art museums and event destinations. The museum opened in 2015 after JP and Mary Jon Bryan purchased the former home of the Galveston Orphans.

After spending most of his life collecting historic firearms, Western art and artifacts, literature, handmade saddles, and more, Bryan set about restoring the historic structure to create 20,000 square feet of exhibition space for a museum open to the public.

You could spend the whole day in the museum exploring the 70,000 objects including 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 portraiture; and rare cards.

The beautifully manicured grounds have also become a popular venue for weddings and events, and the museum hosts them.

4. Ship ashore at the historic seaport of Galveston

Step back in time to explore immigrant history and the founding of Galveston in the new Ship to Shore experience at Galveston’s historic seaport.

This new attraction invites visitors to experience the journey of early immigrants to the port of Galveston, dubbed “The Ellis Island of the South”. The exhibit begins with the long sea voyage through the bustling streets of 1880s Galveston, one of the busiest ports and most prosperous cities in the United States at the time.

Visitors can participate in hands-on interactive learning exhibits and immerse themselves in the authentic and documented personal stories of immigrants landing in Galveston.

“Galveston Island is home to dozens of attractions near the cruise port. If you have a day or even half a day, get out there and explore.” (Photo credit: Heide Brandes)

5. Historic Galveston Island Pleasure Pier

Who doesn’t love the festive vibe of an old-fashioned pier with rides, funnel cakes, ice cream and live entertainment? At Galveston Island’s Pleasure Pier, you’ll spend a day soaring above the water on a variety of rides like the Texas Star Flyer, Iron Shark Rollercoaster, Pirate Plunge and a whole host of rides for the little ones .

There are plenty of food and booze options to sample, as well as retail stores to purchase clothing, memorabilia, and keepsakes.

The 5D theater is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re in the ocean with forgotten shipwrecks and some of the most impressive sea monsters.

Pro tip: Parking is extremely limited, so your best bet is to use a carpool to get to the pier. Also, take plenty of water and snacks, as buying food and drink can quickly become quite expensive.

6. Island Adventure Tour by Electric Bike

Get your heart pumping and your blood pumping on an e-bike island adventure tour with Zipp EBikes. If you only have half a day, this guided tour lasts around 2 hours and is led by a local guide who can share the island’s history, show you around historic neighborhoods and show you the amazing number of waterfowl in the East Lagoon. region.

Zipp Ebikes is also planning a future brewery tour that will take you to local craft breweries in the area.

Pro tip: You will need to be in relatively good physical condition for these tours. But don’t worry, e-bikes are great for those who want the biking experience but need a little boost to get up tough hills and the like.

Junettenth mural in Galveston.
“Galveston Island has a rich history surrounding Juneteenth and visitors can explore the African American experience with a new mural art and storytelling center.”
(Photo credit: Heide Brandes)

7. Junettenth Mural

In June 2021, Galveston unveiled and dedicated a 5,000 square foot mural called Absolute equality right where General Gordon Granger read General Order #3 guaranteeing the freedom of over 250,000 enslaved black people in Texas.

General Granger read this order from Texas on June 19, 1865, which is now celebrated nationwide as Juneteenth. The mural, created by Houston artist Reginald C. Adams, is located in the Old Galveston Square building which overlooks the original proclamation site (the former Osterman Building 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 the African American story from the enslavement of Africans to the Emancipation Proclamation. The storytelling and art space includes paintings, sculptures and graphics.

Sculpture on Pier 21 and Tall Ship Elissa.
Sculpture on Pier 21 and the tall ship Elissa (Photo credit: Warren Price Photography / Shutterstock.com)

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 the port of Piraeus, Greece. In 1982, this historic tall ship was restored and turned into a floating museum that also offers sails to the public in April.

ELISSA is one of only three ships still actively sailing (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 hosts weddings, special events, and plenty of Instagrammable memorabilia.

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